It was quite a few years ago that I first heard of Janis and her legendary performance at Woodstock 69. I got my hands on Pearl with a whole bunch of other records from a top 500 list and have had it on my phone since, waiting for shuffle to catch me off guard and precisely that happened the other day with Half Moon, a feel good, upbeat, jiving song on the first side of the record. Reading up on Pearl I am saddened to learn it was released posthumously a few months after her death in 1970 where she suffered a heroin overdose. Interestingly the album was recorded in the failed four channel quadraphonic format which would eventually become surround sound. It also held the top album slot for nine weeks and sold over four million copies.
Whats impressive about Pearl is its energy and dynamism, from both Janis's charisma and the wonderfully involved, vibrant instrumentation behind her. The record rocks and sways between heartfelt emotions and feel good, rocking vibes. A powerful fusion of Funk, Soul, R&B and Blues Rock jives on with a colorful intensity as the accompanying Fult Tilt Boogie Band illuminate these songs with fleshed out and inspired music making a rich setting for Janis however they too take the lime light with bursts of powerful organs and guitar licks between the ever present liveliness of the deceased Richard Bell's pianos. Its dense in its involvement, yet audibly crisp and inviting, each instrument having its space in the mix to shine as they jive in tandem.
All of the band give a riveting performance, you can simply just zone in on one instrument and be moved but the biggest mover is Janis out in front of them who has such a fascinating and emotional voice. With such sincere passion and expression in her singing, the half hit notes and croaky, scratchy strain she frequently visits become engulfed in the moment, sounding natural, charming and despite technically being "flawed" its transformed by her charisma. She even goes has far to push her voice in to a surging shriek on occasion, which is too just an unleashing of urgent expression. Its truly riveting and endearing, her young death truly a tragedy.
Its practically a flawless record, thirty four minutes of emotional engagement with exception to one track which I can't help but feel modern corporatism has spoiled as I'm sure Ive heard it in a commercial of the same name, Mercedes Benz. Its a short, lower fidelity accapella where Janis sounds a little rusty on her own, singing sarcastic prayers for consumerist products. Its really quite a nice piece but feels tainted by its snug fit with advertising culture where everything becomes a commodity, even the song, which only makes sense retrospectively.
My time with this record has taught me what I'm learning over and over again, that a musicians personal expression can transcend any preconceived musical preference if given a chance. The sixties is a fascinating chapter in the history of humanity and certainly the beginning of the cultural freedom we experience today. I'd never been keen on the music but I'm glad that's changing. Janis's voice feels free of its time but the instrumentals are firmly rooted in the era and Its great to hear familiar 60s aesthetics expressing something I can relate with, however writing that makes me realized its perhaps the ever changing self that is now coming around to this wonderful era of music and cultural significance.
Rating: Cry Baby, My Baby, Half Moon, Get It While You Can