JANIS JOPLIN Pearl (Columbia)

Allegedly because somebody high up in the company harbours a fondness for the black stuff, Sony BMG have showered upon a grateful populace a series of bargainatious 180 gram reissues of some of their most perennially popular titles. (I picked mine up from Amazon for the giveaway price of 5.97, although they managed to recoup all that added value by folding the sleeve to fit it into a package less than 12 inches square.)

That the music is exemplary goes without saying. Released posthumously in 1971, “Pearl” was the sound of a talent burning out brightly, not fading away. There are two inevitable high points, condemned to tower over the rest of the album by their sheer popularity. It’s scarcely apparent, or even worth mentioning, that “Me & Bobby McGee” is ostensibly a country song – there’s scant value in attempting to pick apart the multifarious threads that make up Janis’ music, because it’s Janis’ music and that’s what it is. The Full Tilt Boogie Band might sound a little raucous and unkempt elsewhere on the album, but here they’re nuanced and supple, cresting, gliding and falling intuitively behind Janis. The wonder of “Mercedes Benz” is that it took so long for Mercedes Benz to use it to sell Mercedes Benzes – there’s probably a thesis in the couple of decades’ worth of paradigm shifting that allowed that to happen. Brilliant in its concision, it’s the perfect marriage of form and content. (I do like the moment when she exhorts “Everybody!” in the middle of this solo performance.)

Practically everything here is tackled with the same modulated care and riotous abandon (with the possible exception of “Buried Alive In The Blues”: it’s presented without Pearl’s vocals, which hadn’t been recorded at the time of her death, sealing the stinging irony of the title). Hear how she swan-dives from a throat-stripping holler to a gurgling croon in the opening moments of “Cry Baby”; feel appropriately chilly whilst contemplating “Get It While You Can” – “Don’t you know when you’re loving anybody, baby/You’re taking a gamble on a little sorrow/But then who cares, baby/’Cause we may not be here tomorrow, no” – which runs Gram Parsons’ “In My Hour Of Darkness” close in the ominously prescient signoff stakes.

Sony BMG’s shiny new heavyweight vinyl reissue is hardly audiophile material but what should you expect for sick squid? Whilst launching an inexpensive classic album reissue series is clearly a laudable act, on the somewhat grainy and grimy-sounding evidence before my ears I can’t help wondering yet again what might’ve happened had a more committed company got their hands on the master tapes. Yeah, yeah, never satisfied.

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