Share VALLEYS OF NEPTUNE – Jimi Hendrix (Legacy)
I preordered this and the new Jeff Beck album from Amazon at the same time, then thought, “WTF, what is this – 1973?”
 
Sure, “classic rock” radio has ruined at least half of "Are You Experienced?" for me forever, and ‘90s SRV clones here in Texas did the same for “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” and “Little Wing” -- the latter a song that some of ‘em probably don’t even realize has lyrics. And after my year and a half in college (’74-’75), I couldn’t stand to listen to his music for a decade because I knew so many people who’d addled themselves with psychedelics in his name. But the fact remains that Hendrix was the water I grew up swimming in, even though I was barely aware of his music before he died.
 
The first issue of Rolling Stone I bought, in Greenwich Village when I was 13, had his obituary in it; on the day he died, my mother came and picked me up from middle school. I remember watching the Woodstock movie in the theater and getting "Are You Experienced?" that summer, barely able to comprehend that all of those sounds were being made by an electric guitar. The recording of his Monterey set was easier to fathom, and it hit like "Live At Leeds" and "Get Your Ya-Ya’s" out on the innumerable occasions I heard it while I was bedridden that winter. My terminal semester in college, my roommate and I studied "Axis: Bold As Love" and "Electric Ladyland", and the October 1975 all-Hendrix issue of Guitar Player with a lot more dedication than we gave our classes.
 
Since the Hendrix family got control of his catalog in 1995, they’ve been milking their cash cow relentlessly, albeit with better taste and judgment than producer Alan Douglas displayed in the years immediately following Jimi’s passing. You might well arsk, “How many reissues of the four classic albums (for 1997’s "First Rays of the New Rising Sun" has proven itself to be as good a representation of the album JH was working on at the time of his death as we’re going to get) does anyone need?” But it is nice for fans to have the Monterey, Woodstock, Band of Gypsys, Berkeley, and Isle of Wight sets DVD-available. And this disc, which some will dismiss as barrel-scrapings, definitely has its pleasures.
 
True, this material was never intended for release as an album, but it’s a worthwhile document of the transitional period between "Electric Ladyland" and the Woodstock/Band of Gypsys experimental era, when the wheels were coming off the Experience, mainly due to tensions between Hendrix and bassist Noel Redding. (It seems odd to be compartmentalizing a recording career that only lasted four years, but such was the nature of Jimi’s achievement.) In this regard it’s not unlike the "Baggy’s Rehearsal Sessions" bootleg, which actually trumps the officially released versions of the Band of Gypsys material.
 
With Army/chitlin circuit buddy Billy Cox – for my money, a more sympathetic and effective accompanist than Redding – on board, you can hear Hendrix transforming live staples like “Stone Free” and “Bleeding Heart” into looser-limbed, more groove-oriented constructions. Even the moderate-tempo, live-in-studio Experience take of “Lover Man” shows the piece evolving from its roots in B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby,” while their “Hear My Train A Comin’” cuts the live version from the muddily mastered "Rainbow Bridge" soundtrack. There’s also a studio take of the Experience’s jam-out on Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love,” previously best known in its "Live At Winterland" and Youtube live-on-Lulu’s-TV-show incarnations.
 
Three tracks – the aforementioned “Lover Man,” “Mr. Bad Luck,” and the so-so closing jam “Crying Blue Rain” – feature bass and drum tracks re-recorded by Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell in 1987, a weird conceit, but a more organic one than Douglas’ replacing entire backing tracks with soulless, sterile session-guy spew on the now-deleted mid-‘70s "Crash Landing" and "Midnight Lightning" albums. “Mr. Bad Luck,” a piece of fluff left over from the "Axis: Bold As Love" sessions, ultimately evolved into "Rainbow Bridge"’s “Look Over Yonder.” Other works in progress include “Ships Passing Through the Night,” a precursor to The Cry of Love’s “Night Bird Flying,” and “Lullaby for the Summer,” source of the intro riff from the same album’s “Ezy Rider.”
 
The title track, the one “new” song included here, is OK but nothing special. Similarly, the studio re-recordings of “Fire” and “Red House” lack the freshness of the "Are You Experienced?" versions, but they demonstrate how much the Experience had matured as a performing unit in a couple of years. They’re hardly essential, but still a treat for fans. The same could be said of "Valleys of Neptune" as a whole. And as someone who doesn’t listen to Hendrix all the time anymore, I have to say that his playing remains stunning.
- Ken Shimamoto

 

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