Big Brother & The Holding Company • Cheap Thrills

Columbia/Mobile Fidelity & MFSL2-453
45rpm LPs



Janis Joplin • Pearl

Columbia/Mobile Fidelity & MFSL2-454
45rpm LPs



by Dennis Davis | May 19, 2016

oth of these are, of course, Janis Joplin albums. Does anyone really file Cheap Thrills under "B"? Nobody today would consider Big Brother & The Holding Company as more than an historical footnote were it not for the fact that it was the band with which Joplin electrified the music world at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Shortly after the release of Cheap Thrills, Joplin left Big Brother behind to make her fame as a solo act, but she died in October of 1970, a few months before release of her second masterpiece, Pearl, in February 1971. Her supporting musicians on that album were truly for support; there's no mention of them on the front cover, and only a picture on the back cover sums up their short-lived fate as Joplin’s band.

On Cheap Thrills, Joplin is at her most unleashed, sounding like she is exploding off the stage. With the exception of "Ball and Chain," the songs were recorded in the studio with audience noise from live performances added. The trick was successful, as the production quality of the session sounds like a decent but not remarkable live recording. On the other hand, the performance is as exciting as a live performance, with Joplin at her wildest, rawest and most immediate.

The disappointing sound of the original LP turned out not to be the last word, as proven by the superior sound of a CD reissue [Audio Fidelity AFZ 150] and a special Record Store Day mono LP mastered by Kevin Gray [Columbia KCL2900]. The mono LP especially showed how much was missing from the original. Mobile Fidelity has elected to release the album in stereo.

Pearl was a more professional production, recorded at Sunset Sound Recorders in Hollywood. From the opening measures of "Move Over" you recognize how much better a production this is than Cheap Thrills. On the other hand, Joplin is not quite as explosive as she was in the earlier performance. But that’s a relative term, as she certainly does not hold back on "Cry Baby" and few if any other female pop vocalists ever came close to packing so much emotion into such a tight space. Pearl features more ballads than Cheap Thrills, giving the misleading impression of a cooler performance. One song is entirely instrumental, as Joplin died before recording the vocal track, and Columbia lacked an extra vocal to fill out the album. That slight imperfection aside, the album is filled with nine songs that approach perfection, and several, including "Cry Baby," "Me And Bobby McGhee" and "Mercedes Benz," have reached iconic status.

Pearl has been available in several digital forms. The best are the Blu-spec CD [Sony Japan SICP 20029], which includes four previously unreleased live tracks from other sessions, and The Pearl Sessions [Columbia/Legacy 886978842242], which includes numerous unused takes.

Mobile Fidelity has been on a roll for some time, releasing masterworks from the coveted Columbia vaults from the likes of Miles Davis and Bob Dylan. Its track record remains unbroken, as the sound of these Janis Joplin reissues is outstanding. While the Kevin Gray mono mastering of Cheap Thrills is also a huge improvement over the original, I give the edge to the stereo presentation of the MoFi release, as I think it adds dimension without the phony soundstage. And Pearl sounds better still.

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