This brand-new, completely unreleased studio album features 12 previously unreleased studio recordings totalling over 60 minutes of unheard Jimi Hendrix. Ten of these recordings were made between February and May, 1969, as the Jimi Hendrix Experience … see full wiki
Valleys of Neptune feels like what might have happened next. This is an imperfect album, but it is head and shoulders better than anything that has been released from the foot locker of Hendrix tapes. I'm a huge fan; this album holds a warm place in my Hendrix collection.
Listening to this album I was transported back to the early seventies, laying on the living room floor, parents not home, with the volume up as loud as my ears could stand (maybe 7 or 8), listening between two homemade Bose 901 replica speakers. The sound was horrible, but the music was incredible - Hendrix, Are You Experienced. Over forty years later, I can almost see Hendrix standing in my room, nobody is around, the sound system is a million times better, I can actually feel the bass now, and it is turned up as loud as my ears can stand (-14db - there's no 10 or 11 anymore). My ears are still ringing as I write this review, but I'm grinning ear to ear.
The sound on this CD is remarkable. The first notes of Stone Free are crystal clear, sharp, and incredibly well defined. The first four tracks (Stone Free, Valleys of Neptune, Bleeding Heart, and Hear My Train A Comin') are as good as anyone could ever get, given the source recording material. Things go a lot south on Mr. Bad Luck, there is a lot of tape hiss in the background, and the sound is much flatter than those first four tracks. The recording quality picks up somewhat on the remaining tracks, Red House is particularly fine. Just remember though, the worst track on this CD is far superior to any of the other issues of previously unreleased studio recordings.
There is something about these recordings that I do not understand at all, almost every track fades away during the song, sometimes right in the middle of a guitar solo. Did they do this because there are significant recording errors, the tracks aren't complete, Hendrix yelled something, or the music was just bad? Or did they do something really wrong; fade away because they mixed this to a time limit for the whole CD? That would be the worst answer possible, and it would make me rather angry. I certainly hope that the Experience Hendrix Corporation didn't decide to fade out tracks so that they could sell two bonus tracks to certain stores - Target and Best Buy.
I think this is an album that might have been. It's highly unlikely that it would have been published back in the sixties or seventies without a lot more work and rerecording. The first four tracks have a ton of potential. The remaining eight are more experimental, probably testing out how these songs would sound. I'm certain nobody ever thought Sunshine of your Love would be released on an album, it is an odd rendition of the song, driving a bit too fast with no vocals.
As a piece of history, this CD is incredible. We get to hear Hendrix really play. The mix was done to really focus on his guitar playing and vocals. The drum beat and bass line are relegated to the back of the music. These tracks would have never been mixed that way for public release. Mastering technology has changed so much in the past forty years. We are the beneficiary with clean and sharp new releases. Even with all these great new tools, tape hiss is still evident, and there are some random moments where loud static shows up or the notes are clipped and muddied. I didn't count all those moments, but there are at least five short bursts of bad sound.
The CD I reviewed and own is the twelve track version. I understand there are fourteen track versions available as exclusive items from other stores. I've not heard those other two tracks, but given the direction some of these tracks went, I can't imagine that those are phenomenal recordings.
The CD includes a booklet with nine pages of tiny type written by John McDermott (there are also a bunch of really great pictures in the twenty four pages total). Sadly this long story just feels contrived. Everything is about how Jimi did this, or did that, or told people to do these things; how he was the genius behind everything that had anything to do with this music. I think Hendrix was a genius, he was an incredible guitar player, but he wasn't everything. And it just feels wrong when I read, over forty years later, somebody recounting what a person said, thought, and felt. The looking glass can be very fuzzy over the years. The Experience Hendrix Corporation is just that, a company trying to make money and some of these antics are exactly that, merchandising. But it is Hendrix, the music is the point.
Even with the flaws, and the hambone merchandising I still think this is a remarkable CD. The music is outstanding.