Pearl was Janis Joplin's final, and sadly posthumous, studio release. As the album was being recorded in the Fall of 1970, several signs pointed to a positive turnaround in Janis's life. She had cleaned up her drug habits at least partially, assembled a band (the Full Tilt Boogie Band) exactly to her liking, and begun moving in a new, mature musical direction all her own. She had also finally found a producer, Paul Rothchild, who - as road manager John Cooke describes it in his liner notes to the new Pearl - Legacy Edition - "was unlike any producer she had worked with before... working with him was the best experience of her recording career."
Plenty has been written about Pearl and I wouldn't venture to have anything significantly new to say. I'll just mention that if you haven't listened to Janis for some time, it's worth revisiting her last studio album. There will always be some die-hards who think Janis never should have left Big Brother, and there will always be those whose favorite album is I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama, but the fact is, for as long as she lived Janis was always a work in progress. Maybe she always would have been. Pearl represented the summit of her self-creation to that point, and it was the only studio album she truly enjoyed making.
The bonus tracks here include the fascinating demo version of "Me And Bobby McGee" from the Columbia/Legacy Janis release, where you can hear the artist in the process of developing the vocal parts she burned permanently into popular culture just over a month later with the studio recording that ended up on the album. There's also an alternate version of "Cry Baby" with a longer, goofier rap than the album track - it's not as tight, but shows that good times were being had in the studio. A previously unreleased alternate take of "My Baby" seems incomplete without the final version's backing vocals but it is interesting to hear a work in progress almost ready to be served. There's also an instrumental called "Pearl" which the band recorded after Janis died. This has never before been issued, and it's a beautiful and poignant tribute.
The fruit of Janis's successful collaboration with Rothchild and the new band is evident on the album, but the live feel captured on Pearl was, necessarily, not an exact match to the band's sound in concert. The recent release of a film of the Festival Express tour, in which Janis (with Full Tilt Boogie), the Grateful Dead, The Band, Buddy Guy and others travelled together by train across Canada in June-July 1970, stopping for several concerts, provided some excellent documentary evidence of Janis's musical development during her last year on the planet. Now, with the two-disc Legacy Edition, a full collection of live Festival Express recordings is readily available. Together with Pearl itself and the bonus studio tracks, the Festival Express recordings comprise a worthy document of the tragically brief, explosive final phase in the career of a singer who was so ahead of her time we may never catch up.