Big Pearl: Double Faces (Independent)

Thursday, March 5, 2012
March 2012 issue
Written by Dean M. Shapiro

Living in New Orleans and enjoying our culinary delicacies from the nearby waters, we know all about oysters. Rough and coarse on the outside, smooth and tasty on the inside. And, every now and then, we might even find one with a pearl in it. That would describe Big Pearl, which is vocalist Lani Ramos and her backup band. Ramos, a self-described “Funk Rock Chick” and die-hard Janis Joplin fan, named the group after Joplin’s “Pearl” nickname and the title of the late blues belter’s posthumous early 1970s album. But the oyster analogy is what really comes to mind here. Backed by a core band consisting of Mike Wheat on guitar, Keiko Komaki on keyboards, Jimbo Walsh on bass and Adam Coolsat on drums, Ramos is a cauldron of raw energy and seismic power as she unleashes her vocals in a rough, no-holds-barred style. Right from the opening track, “Shake That Junk” you know you’re in for a wild ride. Refusing to acknowledge any boundaries of style or limitations of vocal range, she pours out her angst and raw emotions in a frenzy that grips you by the gut and doesn’t let go until the songs are over, which is precisely the intent. She does, however, tone things down for “It Goes Away” which shows a pleasing, mellow side to the vocal style. All but one of the songs are originals composed by Wheat, four of which Ramos collaborated on, and the tech work, most of which was done in Tim Stambaugh’s Word of Mouth Studio in Algiers, is first-rate. Fans of ‘80s and ‘90s hard rock, this CD is for you.

Big Pearl: Double Faces (Independent)

Thursday, December 1, 2011
December 2011 issue
Written by Alex Rawls

The band name and cover art are pleasantly misleading. They suggest that this will be more in the Janis Joplinesque mode that singer Lani Ramos initially made her calling card, but that’s an unforgiving measuring stick. Double Faces starts there with “Shake That Junk,” but it quickly moves in less predictable directions. “It Goes Away” has traces of Stevie Nicks at her prime with Fleetwood Mac, while “Wounded Knees” taps into Patti Smith’s serrated, mannered vocal attack. If anyone served as Ramos’ muse on Double Faces, it’s Smith and her dramatic sense of abandon to the moment in music that flirts with the primitive. At times, that leads Ramos out of control instead of to the edge of it, but she’s clearly emotionally committed in every performance.

While it’s great to hear Big Pearl broaden its reach, sometimes the album reveals the band’s influences too easily. “One Last Cigarette” is the album’s high point, the place where her influences are internalized and a part of Ramos’ own art. Big Pearl is clearly a work in progress, but Double Faces is a positive step.