Archival release (Experience Hendrix/Legacy)
Lo these many decades since Jimi Hendrix’s death in 1970, I have witnessed the incessant parade of reissues, repackagings, and exhumations as the distribution rights to his catalog have shifted primarily from Reprise to MCA to Legacy. Much of this activity has left me cool, if not exactly cold. That said, I’m happy to say now that despite the usual prevalence of repetition (including alternate takes of two songs from the previous archival release, 2010’s Valleys of Neptune), I’m pleased with many of the 12 unreleased studio tracks on People, Hell and Angels (an album title once considered by Hendrix).
Much of the credit goes to mixer Eddie Kramer for his continuing efforts to show Hendrix’s recordings in their original, basic forms, mostly before the guitarist himself (or anyone else, during or after his lifetime) tinkered with them. Accordingly, this December 1969 version of “Earth Blues” is better than the one on Rainbow Bridge (now on First Rays of the New Rising Sun) because Hendrix’s overdubs in Ping-Pong stereo are gone, making the performance less busy. Similarly, “Somewhere,” from all the way back in March 1968, reinstates both Stephen Stills (on bass) and Buddy Miles, negating the posthumous revisions on Crash Landing and the 2000 box set The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Other highlights: the loping tempo and stabbing guitar of “Bleeding Heart” (May 1969), the trim run-through of “Izabella” (August 1969).
There’s a typically dazzling solo on “Hear My Train a Comin’ ” (May 1969), but the best of this song’s versions likely remains the demo on the 2010 box set West Coast Seattle Boy. Meanwhile, the only tracks here that can be considered genuine standalone rarities are “Inside Out” (June 1968), “Let Me Move You” (March 1969), and “Mojo Man” (August 1970), but the first is revealed as an amalgam of “Ezy Ryder” and “Tax Free,” and the others have Hendrix playing a not particularly remarkable sideman to, respectively, saxophonist/vocalist Lonnie Youngblood and the Ghetto Fighters.
Is this album, as touted, “essential”? Not really. Does it contain, as claimed by co-producer and booklet essayist John McDermott, “some of the finest Jimi Hendrix guitar work ever issued”? Debatable. At the end of the day, releases like People, Hell and Angels make one pine for the work released by Hendrix before his death. Which you can rediscover yet again on mono vinyl reissues of Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold as Love, also being released today by Legacy.
Reissues (Alive Naturalsound)
Search the Web for words to describe this cult-legend soul man and you’ll find everything from simply “odd” and “eccentric” to blatantly “gonzo” and “mad.” Heard today, however, in the midst of the turgid technology that often tries to pass for R&B, these two albums sound completely normal — and positively thrilling, as if we’d just found a couple of prime unreleased Sly Stone albums hidden in a closet. Jerry Williams, Jr., began his career as Little Jerry in 1954. Total Destruction to Your Mind, his debut album as Swamp Dogg, was released in 1970, followed by Rat On! a year later. There are interesting covers (Bobby Goldsboro’s “The World Beyond,” the Bee Gees’ “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You”), but the originals (some co-written with Gary “U.S.” Bonds) are the bee’s knees, delving into politics on every level: social, personal, sexual.
Total Destruction is the more energetic of the two; Rat On! is ballad-heavy but has more-developed songs. Both are a blast, charged by the Dogg’s zealous vocals. Freshly remastered, the albums are being issued on vinyl for the first time since their original release, and they’re also available on CD. Either way, it’s a kick to hear the era’s wide-separation stereo mixes. You think Swamp Dogg is Out There? I say he’s resolutely down-to-earth.
Movie & TV guru Josef Krebs and music man Ken Richardson cover new releases and reissues, with reviews of the top titles.
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