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Album review: Jimi Hendrix's 'Valleys of Neptune'

Fans will be fascinated by these bluesy riffs with the Experience, but this album of unreleased material from the archives doesn't convey much that was unknown.

JIMI_HENDRIX_NEPTUNE_CD_240 It's 2010. What could we still want from Jimi Hendrix? He's been gone so long. Yet the master guitarist, Afro-futurist and ultimate psychedelic freak still generates an aura of possibility stronger than what many still-breathing pop stars can maintain. He's the lost rocker most strongly associated with the question "What if?" 

What if Hendrix had collaborated with Miles Davis, gotten into synthesizers, put together that big band he'd been planning at the time of his death? Would rock as we know it be different now? What would Hendrix have made of hip-hop? Would he have had a hand in inventing it? Something about his music points so strongly toward unimaginable next accomplishments that it's hard to consign him to the past. 

Hendrix's estate was a mess for years, and many shoddy reissues tugged his spirit into dingy corners. With the release of "Valley of Neptune," a new phase begins. This album of previously unreleased studio material is the first in a new campaign from Experience Hendrix, the company led by the artist's stepsister Janie. Deluxe reissues of the three sets Hendrix made with his band the Experience will be released on the same day, and Janie recently said that there's enough unheard stuff in the vault to make for a decade of new releases.

That's a lot of "What ifs." "Valleys of Neptune," however, doesn't add much to that particular conversation. Consisting of tracks recorded with the Experience and a few other players as Jimi was growing disenchanted with the power trio format and preparing to form something else, "Valleys of Neptune" reinforces what fans know well about Hendrix: that he loved the blues; that he was a technical wizard who gained energy from extended jams but always came back to the killer riff; that the foundation he created informed the work of every godlike ax dude who followed, from his peers Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton to Prince, the Edge, Jack White and John Mayer.

Eddie Kramer, the influential engineer who worked extensively with Hendrix and co-produced this set with Janie and archivist John McDermott, told Los Angeles Times music writer Randy Lewis in a recent interview that assembling this material was a "fun, archeological dig." That's the best metaphor. 

Of these 12 songs, half are relatively unfamiliar, although a journey into YouTube reveals that hardcore Hendrix fans have uncovered them all before, with different names or in different forms. Two, it seems, including the title track, were assembled by Kramer from sessions that occurred months apart. Most represent the last gasp of the Experience, and you can feel the tension between Hendrix, who strides off into many extended solos and blues vamps, and the rhythm section of Noel Redding (supplanted on bass by Billy Cox on three cuts) and drummer Mitch Mitchell, who stay snappy, seeking pop hooks. 

There are reworkings of the Hendrix hits "Stone Free," "Fire" and "Red House" and a gratuitous but pleasurable instrumental cakewalk through Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love." Devotees will revel in these variations, and Kramer's mix makes them feel very alive -- you can almost hear Jimi snapping his gum.

As for the lesser-known songs, the title track is typical Hendrix sci-fi, "Mr. Bad Luck" has a lot of wit and snap, and the others are memorable mostly for what Hendrix accomplishes in their nooks and crannies. His guitar playing is an inexhaustible thrill, even when he's just messing around.

It goes without saying that this isn't the place to start for curious neophytes. Those other new products from Experience Hendrix promise more: the indomitable whomp of "Manic Depression" and "Spanish Castle Magic"; the heavenly drift of "Little Wing"; his definitive reading of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower." Those are songs, not just possibilities. But the many Hendrix lovers who will appreciate "Valleys of Neptune" will tell you, with Jimi Hendrix, the possibilities are endless. 

--Ann Powers

Jimi Hendrix 
"Valleys of Neptune"
Experience Hendrix/Legacy
Two and a half stars (Out of four) 

RELATED:

Jimi Hendrix and the newly mapped 'Valleys of Neptune'

 
Comments () | Archives (10)

I can't wait for the two-LP vinyl. Spins on a turntable at 33 1/3 rpm. Analog through a diamond needle.

Jimi Hendrix. A double album. This month in 2010.

Incense not included.

Wow.

Is it Valley or Valleys of Neptune?

Ms. Powers got it right when she indicated that the release of the "new" Jimi Hendrix recording "Valleys of Neptune" adds little to what fans already know about Hendrix' music. But she is off base as to why it adds little. What all real fans of Jimi Hendrix have known for years is that the people who live off of Hendrix' estate will stop at nothing to raise a few more dollars and that this new batch of material does nothing but reinforce that opinion.

Like all the other recordings (with the exception of "Cry of Love") that have been released after Jimi's untimely death, the recordings thrown together and labeled "Valleys of Neptune" would never have released by Jimi Hendrix because it does not even came close to meeting the very high artistic standards he set for himself.

The Experience Hendrix Jimi Hendrix Tribute Concert Live. March 5th 2010 Los Angeles, Gibson Theatre. 8.15 pm - 11.15 pm. The event began with a video of Jimi Hendrix newest musical release "Valley Of Neptunes" they followed with a presentation of a new Fender Stratocaster by Experience Hendrix CEO Janie Hendrix to a musical school for childern. Ernie Isley started the show off with Billy Cox on bass and Chris Layton of drums. Stone Free was tight and well rehearsed with Cox on vocal. Message To Love was done in great respect to the Band of Gypsys original version with Isley pulling off guitars licks note for note from Hendrix's 1970 release. Manic Depression was good by Isley which at times sounded a little odd compared to the original verison released in 1967. I give Ernie Isley a B for performance and sound. Living Color with Vernon Reid on guitar performed Power to Love. The song was strong with Corey Glover vocals sung in a very convincing way. Reids guitar solo was excellent but did venture away from Jimi's original licks as the song progressed into more of a funk/rock jam. A for performance B for guitar tone, at times Reids played so fast that you really couldn't hear which notes he was playing, maybe a little more soul and less flash. Doyle Bramhall performed Hear My Train Coming on solo acoustic guitar, this was followed by Who Knows with David Hildago on guitar. Who Knows was strong with Hildago's lead guitar playing on a Les Paul especially soulful.The end of Who Knows the song lost a bit of the push with Bramhall's Octavia solo losing focus, unlike The Band Of Gypsys original with Buddy Miles of drums and vocals. Jimi took the Octavia solo and pushed it to new interesting tones that also incorperated the Wha Wha pedal with Octavia, this didn't happened. I guess that some musicians don't understand that some of us fans really want to hear the sound and tones that Hendrix created live.Isn't that what Jimi was really about live...Especially when he performed with The Band of Gypsys! Performance A Bramhall's guitar solo tone a B. Chris Laytons drumming was solid as usual but at times seemed like it didn't mix up like Mitch Mitchell or Buddy Miles would, this was true during Los Lobos Them Changes where we really could have used Buddy Miles on drums. David Hildago had to signal Layton to play the Miles type machine gun rat tat tat at the end to finish the song...Note, Jimi Hendrix songs are pushed by the drummer. Maybe a drummer like Dennis Chambers and Jack DeJohnette who Mitch really liked would be a nice addition to this line up! Eric Johnson performed a killer version of House Burning Down with some flanged guitar sounds as well as Johnson's note for note guitar runs as well as some of his own licks that added to his solo performance. Johnson then performed Axis Bold As Love. This was a highlight of the evening with many in the audience finally getting to their feet to watch and listen a master of the guitar play with carefully exacuted notes and guitar tones very close the Hendrix's. Johnson finished his set with Are You Experienced? Again Johnson performed a killer guitar solo with long sustained notes that rang through the nights air. Eric Johnson also did an excellent job in doing his own vocals. Performance A. Guitar solos/tones A. Los Lobos, Cesar Rojas, David Hildago performed Can You See Me, Little Wing. Can You See Me had great energy but lacked a little in the middle solo. A Fuzz Face/Feedback tone would had been nice here. Little Wing started with Hildago hitting the opening licks note for note and continued with Rojas playing lead guitar.The song was performed with warmth and feeling with Hildago's solo played with heart and soul. A beautiful version by Los Lobos. Performance B+ Guitar sounds and tone B+. Rojas was using a Flanger pedal. Question. Has anyone of these musicians have an original Univibe pedal, this pedal was one on Jimi's favorite tones for his guitar as this sound/ tone was painfully missing the entire night. Hubert Sumlin performed Killing Floor with Los Lobos. A great soulful performance by the band with Sumlins lead guitar a refreshing clean tone that had been missing until this point. Performance B+. Guitar tone A. Los Lobos performed Them Changes with Corey Glover on vocal. The performance was strong with good solos from Hildago and Rojas. Glover's vocal on this tune was probably the best of the night for him as he sung with phrases that were on pitch with strong conviction, Glover went into the crowd and got those in front sections on their feet. Performance B Vocal A Guitar tones/sounds B. Johnny Lang performed Fire with Brad Whittford ( A member from Aerosmith ) Spanish Castle Magic and The Wind Crys Mary. Lang's guitar playing was soulful as well as played with more than enough energy. Whitford played lead guitar much better than expected the entire night and actually was one of the top guitarist with solo's and guitar tone that was strong with balance between distortion/clean without flash. Lang's solo on Spanish Castle Magic was a highlight of the evening as this brought the crown on it's feet! Lang's vocal stronger than the last time that I saw him as I believe that his age is starting to help is vocals for him now, as he's now singing more than screeming. Wind Crys Mary's middle solo wasn't the same as Hendrix's original version but was still good but I would rather hear the original middle solo as well as the ending solo to finish the tune. Performance A. Guitar solo/tones B+. Vocal A. Kenny Wayne Shephard performed with Noah Hunt on vocal. I Don't Live Today,Voodoo Child, Voodoo Chile ( Slight return ) Come On Pt.2. I Don't Live Today was performed well with a shorter than usual guitar solo also Wayne did not have a vibrato bar on his Stratocaster guitar during I Don't Live Today and did not dive bomb his guitar instead he let the guitar feedback in the break before the jam. Hunt sang great as usual. Voodoo Child, the slow version was a great version by Shephard with guitar runs that sounded like you were listening to the 1968 Electric Ladyland LP, this also was a highlight of the evening as the crowd came on it's feet once again. Voocoo Chile ( Slight Return ) Was played very similar to Guitar great Stevie Ray Vaughn. Chris Layton played great drums on this version as Shephard played guitar runs with either one or two Ibanez TS 808 pedals turned on to produced SRV distorted guitar tones that brought the entire hall to it's feet! Another highlight of the evening. Although I'd rather hear Jimi Hendrix's version of Voodoo Chile ( Slight Return ) I can live with the SRV version. Last up was Joe Satriani. Third Stone From the Sun. Foxy Lady with Vernon Reid. All Along The Watchtower with Glover on vocal.Red House with Brad Whitford on guitar. Third Stone From the Sun with Glover on vocal was good but...Towards the end of the song Satriani abandoned the original songs version of Hendrix feedback tones and substituted these out the world true Marshall Fuzz Faced Tones for fake effect pedal sounds, possibily messing with the controls on an analog delay. Performance B Guitar solo/tones B..Foxy Lady was a great dual solo from Satriani and Reid with Reid playing super fast runs with unreal picking technique and Satriani hitting high harmonics and playing unreal almost impossible to play guitar runs. A highlight of the evening. Performance A Guitar solos/tones A. All Along The Watchtower as a great performance with Satriani playing Hendrix notes for note. A highlight of the evening. Performance A Solo/tone A. Red House by Satriani and Whitford guitar. A great dual guitar solo by two great players! This was my highlights of the evening, both guitarist were playing from their heart and soul. Billy Cox's bass playing and vocal was superb. Satriani played Hendrix blues runs note for note as Whitford played blues guitar that would rival any so called blues guitarist in the world! Performance A+ Guitar solo/tones A+. Writer notes. It's too bad that we heard the same musicians play the same songs as they did in their past Hendrix Tribute appearances. Sadly songs MIA were Dolly Dagger, Roomful Of Mirrors, In From The Storm, Hey Baby, Freedom, Machine Gun, Lover Man, Hear My Train a Coming, Ezy Rider, Purple Haze, The Star Spangled Banner, Castles Made Of Sand, Six is Nine as well as others well all absent from tonights performance instead we heard some of the same songs that these performers had played for us before...Even Jimi would have liked to hear some the songs that he wrote towards the end of his career since these songs were a bit more complicated and entertaining to listen to. The producer for Experience did a good job of gathering these musicians but lacked in anything as being creative.. Maybe a look at how The Who does a Media Show during performances is in order to help give the audience something to be entertained with as they listen to such music.It's easy to produce the same tour year after year but it's hard to produce an ever lasting Experience. All in all the show is entertaining, mainly to guitarist in attendance and does give the people a good deal of music for the buck as many of the worls greatest guitarist gather on stage for one night! Go check the show and be ready to have your socks blown off! Thank you. 4/6/2010

Nice review. How 'bout buying a "new" Jimi Hendrix album in 2010 ? Strange sensation isn'it ! Now let's hope the DVD of the fabulous Royal Albert Hall show from february 24th, 1969 will officially see the light this year on DVD.

Stay tuned

It is inspirational so see such a bright young new star, cut from the same cloth as acts like the of the Black Keys, White Stripes, Jonny Lang, and to a lesser extent John Mayer release such an ambitious first album. From the first listen, it keeps you on the edge of your seat, thinking what else can this guy come up with. By the end it leaves you wanting more, and hopefully this new artist will release a second album soon.

This is nothing more than a moneymaker for the Jimi Hendrix estate. I agree with Leon Chalnick that this one would not have been released if Jimi were alive. He would have worked on it a bit more or abandon it to work on something else. The man was a perfectionist.

Please notify the slow learners at the Broward County Library. They continually order crappy foreign CDs and DVDs but ignore excellent American music and movies, including the Hendrix CD.

What is with people today that we judge everything so harshly? Ann Powers you obviously don't understand a thing about Jimi Hendrix and kind of need to shut up before you turn people away from listening to an incredible album with the best guitar player of all time on it.

A new book about the beginnings of Hendrix career...coming this fall co-written by Brad Schreiber...checkitout...heard about it at the Times festival of books in April....


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