Even if Janis Joplin isn’t around to defend herself or collect royalties, she’s far luckier than most gone-but-still-under-contract stars, because Farewell Song, her “new” LP, is a good record. Unfortunately, Joplin joins the ranks of artists whose work has been exhumed in an orgy of necrophilia that does neither rock & roll nor its aficionados any favors. Though Farewell Song’s nine cuts, salvaged from various live shows and studio sessions (mostly with Big Brother and the Holding Company), don’t add up to a definitive Joplin statement, Elliot Mazer’s production — or reproduction, whichever the case may be — manages to draw the disparate pieces into a coherent whole.
Aside from the maundering descriptions in Country Joe McDonald’s self-serving liner notes, there’s nothing grim or “chilling” about these tunes, which capture Joplin in her raw, histrionic beginnings and move on to her lady-about-to-come-into-her-own phase. “Misery’n” is as strong as any number from her Big Brother and the Holding Company days, undeniably the period in which she was an eqùal band member first and a star second. But “One Night Stand,” with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band on hand to underline the subtle smoothing out of her vocal style, is my favorite. The singer’s words to a would-be suitor (“Don’t you know you’re nothing more than a one-night stand?”) sum up the power reversals that preceded her dizzying spiral downward, and Janis Joplin’s performance is one of her crooning, crying best.