There's much of precious worth across these four CDs and a Bootsy Collins-narrated DVD.
David Stubbs 2010-11-29
Compromising four CDs and a DVD in which Hendrix's story is told in his own words with Parliament's Bootsy Collins as narrator, West Coast Seattle Boy is a collection of Hendrix material previously officially unreleased. It spans his early career on the "Chitlin' Circuit", where he earned his spurs playing behind the likes of Little Richard in the mid-60s, to his very last days, sketching out material for a mooted new studio album in his Greenwich Village apartment.
It's quite obvious that this is not the place for newcomers to begin – they are directed to the great Jimi Hendrix Experience albums, finished articles in which studio and engineer were vital components to the end product. Hendrix was the supreme master of electricity in rock – for him it wasn't mere amplification but the element in which he sculpted. He might well have been horrified that much of what appears on these four discs – early drafts, tentative run-outs, acoustic sketches – is seeing the light of day at all. Although he was the sort of live performer whose incendiary charisma melted the hinges off doors, he is not necessarily an artist best heard "in the raw".
One of the boasting points of this collection is a hitherto unpublished version of Bob Dylan's Tears of Rage. It's interesting enough, with Hendrix, a Dylan devotee, channelling Dylan's own impersonation of a 90-year-old bluesman, complete with harmonica and plucking. But along with the rest of the acoustic numbers included here recorded in the same session, such as a version of 1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be) from Electric Ladyland, it reveals that Hendrix lacked delicacy as an acoustic player, and that he only realised his musical visions when he colourised them on the electric guitar and using multi-tracking to the full.
An album, then, for completists only; but it should be borne in mind that most artists strive their entire careers to attain the quality of Hendrix's cast-offs. Furthermore, this collection is studded with fascinating items which make this a vital purchase for the bootleg-averse Hendrix-ologist. Take, for instance, The Isley Brothers' 1965 number Move Over and Let Me Dance. Woozy and sensual, it uncannily prefigures Hendrix's own Foxey Lady, as well as offering him the chance to cut loose, liquid and tremulous. Disc three yields a live version of Star Spangled Banner, which at once desecrates the anthem and invests it with more oozing beauty than it deserves, as well as a truly shredding version of Purple Haze. Similarly, the extended 1969 version of Stone Free is a great improvement on the under-developed 1966 original.
While some might regard collections like this as exercises in barrel-scraping, there's much of precious worth here, and a warming sense that posthumously, the Hendrix legacy is still yielding fresh things.