CD review: Jimi Hendrix, Valleys of Neptune

Despite the fact that this was probably a rehearsal or studio "exercise," you would be very hard-pressed to find a better version of "Hear My Train a-Comin'" than the one here. Hendrix and his band are simply on fire. He scat-sings to the first instrumental segment and otherwise plays this studio take as if he were standing on a stage in front of a field of muddy legions of fans.


The insertion of "Mr. Bad Luck" -- a 1967 recording masquerading as a sibling of these later takes -- was actually a good fit here. It serves as comic relief at a turning point in the running order and if you squint your ears, it blends right in. A jammy instrumental take on Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" follows and also quotes other Cream melodies. Bluesy excursions come next ("Lover Man," "Ships Passing Through the Night," "Red House" and "Crying in the Rain"), and I would rather hear Hendrix play the blues than anyone, ever. That's just me. "Lullaby for the Summer" is apparently an early version of "Ezy Rider" and it rocks like nobody's business.


The real outlier here seems to be a 1969 studio-rehearsal version of "Fire" that really adds nothing to its previously-realized shape. I suppose it serves as a familiar landmark amidst the lesser-known material, but it comes off as a bit gratuitous in this context. Surprisingly, it's played with the full intensity of any live performance you've heard of it. It is loose and fun all around.


This is by far not the first and I am certain not the last of these kinds of releases that will bleed out of the vaults, and I for one applaud the efforts of whomever has the authority to deliver these kinds of delicious goods. (Out now on Legacy)


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How are we supposed to feel about the seemingly endless plundering of this man's grave? The tape vaults are apparently still fertile ground for the picking if this latest posthumous Jimi Hendrix release is any indication. Certainly Hendrix himself would disapprove of his unfinished material reaching the masses, but he is most decidedly dead and has no say in the matter. His carefully-crafted official works will always be readily available. So now we are privy to previously unheard and unadorned recordings. I say, "Hooray!" Why not celebrate the unsurpassed genius of rock's ultimate guitar player? What better way than to listen in on his creative process and catch him at his improvisational best? Sure, he could craft studio recordings that sound more "professional" than Valleys of Neptune. But those albums have little of this one's raw intensity.

The producers of this document of studio scraps carefully assembled a running order that flows as a listenable album. It launches with a groove-based version of "Stone Free" — an enlightening re-interpretation of a song that was at least a couple of years old by the time this recording was made. The title track follows closely behind and it is clearly a work-in-progress. Goofy lyrics are delivered without complete conviction. So what? Inarguably, we are here for the guitar playing and there is a generous dose of that on this song and throughout the release. Another re-working comes in the form of "Bleeding Heart" along with soloing of the sort that only Hendrix could produce. Other than the voice, the electric guitar is perhaps the most expressive tool available in popular music and here we witness it enjoying its maximum glory at the hands of its acknowledged maestro.

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