Graded on a Curve:
Janis Joplin, Pearl
(MFSL Ultradisc
One-Step Pressing)

Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab has reissued Pearl, from Janis Joplin, originally released in 1971 as an Ultradisc One-Step Pressing. One-Step packages include an album spread over two vinyl discs, playable at 45 RPM for extra fidelity. The albums are pressed on Super Vinyl, developed by NEOTEC and the uber pressing plant manufacturer RTI, offering vinyl with the quietest surface.

The key to the One-Step format is that aside from using the normal MFSL process of working from the original analog master tape recording, the album goes directly from lacquer to what’s called “convert” negative, adjusting the normal mastering process where the lacquer would go through two more steps before being pressed onto vinyl.

Pearl was Joplin’s third studio album. Her first was as part of the self-titled album from Big Brother and the Holding Company in 1967, and the second was I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, released in 1969, after she left Big Brother. The live Cheap Thrills with Big Brother was released in 1968.

For Pearl, Joplin was backed by Full Tilt Boogie, who was her backing band on the famed Festival Express tour through Canada in 1970. The album was produced by Paul A. Rothchild. All of her albums were produced by a different person. Rothchild worked with many of the most acclaimed American acts of the late-’60s and early-’70s, but he is most known as house producer for Elektra Records and for the albums he did with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Love, and especially The Doors.

Like Cheap Thrills, Pearl went to number one, but was released posthumously on January 11, 1971, a little over three months after Joplin’s death. The album’s centerpiece, “Me and Bobby McGee,” co-written by Kris Kristofferson, went to number one and was Joplin’s most popular song.

As for the sound and packaging, One-Step releases are the pinnacle of audiophile. Housed in sturdy boxes with cushiony foam, reproductions of all album art, the Mofi signature polyline sleeves, an additional cardboard album sleeve for extra protection, and flat, quiet vinyl, the releases make it clear that there is simply no way to improve on the package. For this release, the packages are individually numbered and limited to 10,000 copies each.

This Joplin release also has some extra bonus material. There are two black-and-white photo prints of iconic Don Hunstein photographs of Joplin from 1971. There is also a beautiful booklet of photos of Joplin and of the original session tape boxes.

This is Joplin’s signature studio album and her last recording. Rothchild really worked wonders with Joplin, corralling her wild, undisciplined style without diluting her uninhibited raw talent. For the most part, the songs that work the best are of course the covers. Joplin was very much a song interpreter and took pre-rock, r&b, and blues styles and made the music her own.

There are three songs here co-written by the legendary songwriter Jerry Ragovoy. Two were co-written with Mort Shuman and one was co-written with Bert Berns. “Cry Baby,” by Ragovy and Berns, was originally done by Garnet Mimms in 1963, but Joplin cut the definitive version here. “My Baby,” written by Ragovoy and Mort Shuman, is quite good, but the other Ragovoy/Shuman song, “Get It While You Can,” which closes the album, is one of Joplin’s other signature tracks from this album.

Of course, the defining cover on this album and Joplin’s most popular song is “Me and Bobby McGee,” written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster. While Kristofferson wrote songs that became hits such as “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” and “For the Good Times,” “Me and Bobby McGee” became number one and his self-titled, debut album in 1970, included all four of the aforementioned songs.

Also on Pearl was the amusing “Mercedes Benz,” which Joplin co-wrote with Bob Neuwirth and Michael McClure. Her other songwriting credit is her composition “Move Over,” which opens the album and is the best song she ever wrote.

As for sound quality, in some cases this is not an audiophile-grade album, like some of the others in the series. Unlike some of the defining audiophile recordings of the ’70s, this album’s primary feature is more Joplin’s mercurial and ragged vocal style. It still does have a good sound and is easily her best-recorded album. Sometimes the sound is a little thin, and given the raucous material it is a little lifeless in spots. Nonetheless, the unadorned organic immediacy of the album is more than worth the One-Step treatment. It’s also a welcome addition to the series, in that other than Tapestry by Carole King, it is the only album by a female artist in the series thus far.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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