CD and Book Reviews

MUSIC

RARE PEARL: The complete Joplin.

Janis Joplin

Box of Pearls: The Janis Joplin Collection
Columbia/Legacy

RARELY HAS A POP ARTIST’S legacy rested on such a small and erratic output. But it seems strangely appropriate to Janis Joplin, who practically disappeared from rock radio soon after her 1970 death and the 1971 success of Pearl, yet who is somehow, in 1999, having perhaps one of her biggest years. In March Alice Echols’ exhilarating yet chilling Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin (Metropolitan) became the first biography to portray the Port Arthur singer as a whole person, shaped by her bottomless neediness and an American bohemianism that morphed into mass culture. Now comes Box of Pearls, containing all four Janis studio albums, each with bonus tracks, plus an EP of five previously unreleased songs. The four albums are also being rereleased individually, along with a greatest hits set.

The music reveals little new, despite a fine version of Eddie Floyd’s 1967 soul hit “Raise Your Hand.” But ironies come into sharper focus. Her debut effort, Big Brother and the Holding Company, is amateurish but sweetly endearing folk-rock. Cheap Thrills, once widely cited as proof that she totally outclassed her first group, sounds more like garage-band heaven (especially if you have a meth lab in your garage). Despite a sound that is vastly improved over the original, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! proves that she and her short-lived horn band were never ready to record. And on Pearl, the five-piece Full Tilt Boogie Band, widely considered her best, sounds surprisingly loungey. But no matter how good, inept, or inappropriate her backing, Janis is always singing with perfect pitch, crystal-clear intonation, flawless rhythm, and more passion than she knows what to do with. Because she is also so raw and rough, and her persona is so much bigger than life, it’s usually overlooked that she was as extraordinary a singer as rock and roll has ever produced. John Morthland

Brave Combo

Polkasonic
Cleveland International

CARL FINCH STARTED BRAVE Combo as an arty, high-concept tribute to the polka, a lowbrow, much-maligned musical form so square that Finch made it ultra-hip by merely acknowledging its existence with a straight face. Over the ensuing twenty years, Brave Combo has become as much an institution as the polka itself, to the point that the most important rite of passage for students at the University of North Texas is no longer the first football game but rather the first Brave Combo show. While the group, still led by Finch and Bubba Hernandez, is better known these days as a human world-music jukebox tailor-made for dancers (how can you not move to “The Hokey Pokey”?), Polkasonic brings Denton’s little band that could full circle, paying respects to their founding muse with eleven standards, ranging from the obvious (“Apple, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie”) to the more obscure (the puro tejano polka “Conchita, the Waitress,” which is straight out of the Little Joe songbook), with one ringer, a polkatively inspiring version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.”  Myron Floren and Frankie Yankovic owe them, big time. Joe Nick Patoski

Trish Murphy

Rubies on the Lawn
Doolittle

I THINK I’ LL TOSS OFF the semi-gloss / Lose a little sheen,” Trish Murphy sings on “Me Behind the Wheel,” the second track on Rubies on the Lawn. But

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