The latest posthumous Hendrix album offers underwhelming ‘new’ material.
Sean Egan 2010-03-04
Seattle-born guitar genius Jimi Hendrix died 40 years ago this September. Valleys of Neptune is the latest in the avalanche of unreleased Hendrix material that followed that premature demise.
Apart from Axis: Bold As Love outtake Mr Bad Luck (a prototype Look Over Yonder), the dozen songs herein are studio recorded tracks laid down after 1968’s Electric Ladyland but before Hendrix began work proper on First Rays of the New Rising Sun. Most feature the original Jimi Hendrix Experience, two have Billy Cox in place of Noel Redding on bass, one features Hendrix and other musicians.
This, though, is not some kind of great lost missing link album. Several of the tracks, like the cover of Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love and Elmore James’ Bleeding Heart, and a trio of rehashed Experience favourites, were done as studio warm-ups or rehearsals for forthcoming concerts. Even the conventional studio tracks mostly feel as cold and flat as rehearsals, rather than layered and nuanced in the manner of LP cuts. Additionally, the fact that these 12 tracks have a running time of an hour is a bad sign. That Hendrix was always best when he combined virtuosity with brevity is demonstrated by the flaccid eight-minute version herein of Red House, which can’t hold a candle to the taut, classic Are You Experienced original.
The core of the album is four tracks previously unreleased in any format. It’s an underwhelming quartet. Lullaby for the Summer starts out interesting courtesy of an exciting riff, but it soon disappointingly dawns that there are no vocals, while Hendrix’s solo is caterwauling. Ships Passing Through the Night is okay, but essentially just an identikit 12-bar blues with above-average guitar passages. The title-track is dreamlike and slick, but possessed of the type of rather aimless melody line that afflicted Hendrix’s work in later years. Closer Crying Blue Rain is, unlike anything else here, poised and rich. However, it has no vocals, peters sloppily out and (like Mr Bad Luck) is rendered historically worthless by additional bass and drum recording done in 1987.
The fact that this climax comprises the closest thing to a substantial recording on the album is an indictment of a release that one suspects would not have made the stores had the Hendrix estate not wished to offer a bone to new label Sony following the end of their distribution deal with Universal.