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JIMI HENDRIX Valleys Of Neptune Sony/Experience Hendrix (2010)

Jimi Hendrix

There was a period, in the 1990s, when there was a healthy trade in Hendrix bootlegs, usually picked up at record fairs in the absence of any definitive record label product. It has taken some time for the Hendrix Estate to catch up, although in fairness there have been collectors' releases via the Dagger Records imprint and several mainstream releases have sought to refashion Hendrix's recorded legacy for better or for worse.

Now, Sony have acquired the rights to the back catalogue and the new marketing partner will be releasing CD/DVD versions of the classic studio albums. Whilst this might frustrate collectors who have already shelled out for several reissues since 1970 there is no doubt that this cycle of recycling places Hendrix timeless music in front of a whole new generation each time.

How far does Valleys of Neptune go to satiating the steady demand for unreleased sessions? In 1997 we got 'First Rays Of the Rising Sun' which attempted to substitute 'Cry Of Love' with a definitive track listing of songs in progress at the time of Hendrix death in 1970. And 'South Saturn Delta' (1999) sought to gather up some of the 'holy grail' tracks never previously available on mainstream releases.

'Valleys Of Neptune' showcases the last recordings of the original Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1968/9. Whilst there is inevitable song duplication with 2000's excellent box set these are different takes. For example, 'Stone Free' appears on the box set but with Noel Redding on bass, rather than Billy Cox. But it is probably fair to assume that real collectors will already have these versions on bootlegs acquired at a time of record label/legal paralysis. Some of the tracks appeared on the illegal 'Studio Haze'. And, no, I never owned that, officer.

For the record, original engineer Eddie Kramer has remastered these songs and long-time Hendrix archivist John McDermott supplies extensive liner notes. (Unfortunately we didn't have these notes for our advance copy so we don't know the rationale in choosing the featured versions).

Newcomers might be better served by 'First Rays' for sheer accessibility but 'Valleys' offers a similar insight to the creative process that was offered by 'South Saturn Delta'. After hearing some of the more familiar songs (albeit in different versions) you might think that - on balance - these versions don't really better the original or another commercially available version.

Hendrix was a great one for spending inordinate amounts of time refining his work, reusing riffs and motifs, changing the tempo, adding lyrics, and as a showcase of work in progress (and relative to alternate versions) this sort of album release will always provide fodder for the anoraks amongst us.

But it is the 'less familiar' songs that offer up more riches. 'Valleys Of The Neptune' came out of a session in September 1969 when Hendrix apparently recorded seven instrumental takes. 'Bleeding Heart' is taken at a slower, more sinewy pace than the version appearing on, say, 'War Heroes'. And Hendrix's jazz vocal infections could almost make this an obvious cover for someone like Jamie Cullen.

Jazz was never very far away from Hendrix's musical palette and there was talk that he would collaborate with Miles Davis before his death. 'Ships Passing Through The Night' is another unreleased track included here that has a jazzy vibe. Although attributed to the Experience (and therefore one of their last studio recordings together) McDermott wrote earlier that Hendrix was backed by 'an unknown group of musicians for this session'.*

'Mr Bad Luck' is also known as 'Look Over Yonder', but as with 'Crying Blue Rain' there is the ominous overdubbing of bass and drums in 1987 which brings back memories of those dark days of post-1970 releases and, specifically, Alan Douglas and 'Crash Landing' in 1975. The title of the latter track is referred to in the song 'In From the Storm'.

Interestingly both 'Crying Blue Rain' and 'Sunshine Of Your Love' come from an Olympic Studio session (February 1969) shortly before the Experience's Albert Hall gig. The late Noel Redding wrote that Hendrix seemed really lost during the recording, and 'the whole thing was very sad'. The Cream classic degenerates into a funky jam with Hendrix characteristic syncopated chops whilst 'Lover Man' breaks down into a less frantic bluesy groove than its cousin on 'South Saturn Delta'.

'Lullaby For The Summer' is actually an instrumental try-out of 'Ezy Ryder' and really only interesting as a four-minute curio. Although, it is interesting.

This release is not barrel scraping, far from it, but I am sure the compilers could have come up with more exciting, adventurous cuts. Do we really need alternative but all-too-familiar versions of 'Fire' and 'Red House'?

For example, the extended instrumental jam 'Astro Man' came out of a session recorded in June 1970 and was originally slated for a 1995 official compilation called, perhaps ironically, 'Bootleg'. This shows off Hendrix's extended instrumental fluency and even McDermott acknowledges 'an extended take 7 was spectacular'.* So why isn't it on here?

Why, for example, can't we hear the song 'Drinking Wine' which McDermott considered the highlight of the recording at Record Plant on September 23 1969. Instead we get 'Valleys of Neptune' from that same session.

What this effectively means is that whilst the Hendrix estate should be applauded for keeping the flame alive, collectors will always seek out some of those more intriguing tracks that would possibly never be included on a fully commercial release. One wonders whether Sony will delve any deeper than Universal. In the case of 'Valleys Of Neptune' less wants more, and those soon-to-be-converted should also seek out that very fine box set which can be picked up for around 20 quid.

* John McDermott, Jimi Hendrix Sessions (Little Brown, 1995)


Review by David Randall

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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