Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Hendrix: Still Standing Near The Fire

Thirty-eight years ago, in the March 30, 1972 issue of Rolling Stone, critic Stephen Davis began a review of Jimi Hendrix's Hendrix In The West with these words: "Scrape, scrape. That sound you hear is Eddie Kramer, the proprietor of the late Jimi Hendrix's New York recording studio, Electric Ladyland (sic), scraping the bottom of the Hendrix barrel for the second and possibly second-to-last posthumous album of the deceased genius' music."

Mind, this was before albums like War Heroes, Loose Ends, Crash Landing, Midnight Lightning, et.al. were unleashed on a public hungry for more from the man who sanctioned just three studio albums during his career.

The state of Hendrix's estate and the various reissue programs licensed by it are well documented, and I had long since grown cynical about the state of the Hendrix catalog myself. As many interesting tidbits that the estate had released under the aegis of Jimi's adopted half-sister Janie, it had also done things like slap his name on golf balls and psuedo-psychedelic clothing. Long ago, I stopped paying much attention.

But the estate's deal with Sony Legacy brought new hope. After all, the company has done a fabulous job with re-packaging the Miles Davis catalog and reissuing essential music by artists like Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk. Maybe they'd do right by Hendrix, too.

But a new studio album? I immediately flashed back to that Rolling Stone review, but a couple of good advance notices piqued my interest.

I glanced at the sleeve of Valleys Of Neptune when it arrived this morning and thought, Hmmm, "Stone Free," "Hear My Train A Comin'," "Lover Man," "Fire." Ah, more of the same. I put the disc on and started into some work. The good mixes caught my ear, and the alternative versions were interesting. And then I came to "Red House." Wait a minute! Why was the original Experience re-doing that and "Fire" in early 1969?

The liner notes explain that the band re-cut them at a rehearsal for their appearance at Royal Albert Hall—a performance that was filmed (and rumour has it, will finally be released in some decent form)—and released posthumously on a couple of quasi-bootlegs.

Suffice to say that if Stephen Davis had known this was in Kramer's "barrel" he wouldn't have been so hasty. Hendrix's guitar solo and vocals are first rate—easily on par with the original release (on Are You Experienced in the UK and Smash Hits in North America)—and the quality is almost that good on several other tracks. This is more than barrel scraping or cashing in; this sounds like a dedicated Eddie Kramer listening to hours and hours of stuff and finding some real gems. If only for the sound of that guitar on "Red House" and a clean studio version of Hendrix's killer cover of "Sunshine Of Your Love," Valleys Of Neptune is a winner.

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