Friday, March 09, 2018

Jimi Hendrix's "Both Sides of the Sky"

I've often said Hendrix was the water I grew up swimming in, even though he checked out in the year when I first heard his music. And while it didn't take me long to lose the thread of posthumous releases -- both the quickie cash-ins that followed his death and the completist trawls released under the Experience Hendrix imprint (I'll admit to having greatly enjoyed the Rykodisc Winterland and BBC sets when they were new) -- all of the albums he released during his three-year (!) recording career still stand up, as do the two (The Cry of Love and Rainbow Bridge) that were compiled from the material he was working on at the time of his death. Even his inheritors remain uber-influential: No Jimi, no P-Funk, no '70s Miles, no SRV.

As I said in re: the Who last week, technology changes the way we consume entertainment, and in Jimi's case, that means I don't need a plethora of live albums when I can view DVDs of Monterey to see him triumphantly exploding out of the gate, Woodstock to see just how far he could take his music, and Isle of Wight (when I can stomach it) to see him at the end of his tether. Both Sides of the Sky is the third in a "trilogy" of albums containing what Experience Hendrix claims are the last of Jimi's unreleased studio recordings (although I'd swear they previously said the cupboard was bare after Valleys of Neptune and People, Hell and Angels, but I suppose I could be mistaken), and even if you're not an obsessive who wants to hear every note he ever recorded, there are reasons why you might want to hear this.

The obvious one is that Hendrix was a master of the guitar and the recording studio, one who was operating at an incredibly high level of creativity as he struggled to move his music forward after the masterwork of Electric Ladyland, while maintaining a grueling tour schedule and building Electric Lady Studios, jamming or working on material practically every waking moment. Five decades later, even his ideas that weren't fully developed make for rewarding listening, and provide insight into his processes.

The tracks here are a mixed bag: full band takes of songs, jams, and studio experiments. In the first category, "Mannish Boy" shows the newly formed Band of Gypsys applying Jimi's unique riddimic sense to the incantatory Muddy Waters/Bo Diddley blues, while on "Lover Man," they essay an oft-played (but never definitively waxed) tune based on the version of "Rock Me Baby" he played at Monterey. "Hear My Train A-Comin'," most famous in its filmed acoustic 12-string and electric '70 Berkeley Community Theater versions (the full audio version of which was a highlight of Rainbow Bridge), here gets a fervent treatment from the disintegrating '69 Experience, cut just a couple of weeks before the aforementioned BoG "Mannish Boy." There are also worthy BoG studio takes of "Stepping Stone" and "Power of Soul" (you can even hear everything he's singing!) which recall the worthwhile authorized bootleg The Baggy's Rehearsal Sessions.

Among the jams, Guitar Slim's "Things I Used To Do" is dominated by Johnny Winter's slide; I first read about this track in an interview with Johnny in the September '75 Hendrix issue of Guitar Player that was my bible for a couple of months, when my last college roommate was schooling me in musical structure before we both dropped out. On "Georgia Blues," Jimi backs his chitlin circuit compadre, singer-saxman Lonnie Youngblood (anybody remember Two Great Experiences Together?) to the hilt on a slow 12-bar. Stephen Stills, whom it's instructive to remember was once an in-demand jammer (cf. his "Season of the Witch" on Super Session and his appearances in the DVD-available Supershow from British TV), is on organ for a Stills original ("$20 Fine") and a pre-CN&Y take on Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" that Stills sings while Jimi plays bass (as he did on Robert Wyatt's "Slow Walkin' Talk").

The studio experiments include "Jungle," an early guitar-and-drums attempt to work out the "Villanova Junction" theme that wound up closing Jimi's Woodstock set; "Sweet Angel," a Ladyland-period run through the beautiful chord sequence that ultimately emerged as "Angel" on The Cry of Love; "Send My Love To Linda," a never-finished song-in-progress pieced together from three different takes; and "Cherokee Mist," a fascinating '68 snippet of bluesy electric sitar and feedback that includes some ideas that showed up on the third side of Ladyland.

This is no place for a Hendrix novice to start; uninitiates are directed to the three Experience albums, Band of GypsysThe Cry of Love, and Rainbow Bridge. (Not to mention the three aforementioned full-festival-show DVDs.) But if you already care about Jimi, and need another taste, Both Sides of the Sky will do for you. His leavings still beat loads of bands' diamonds.


Post a Comment

<< Home