Valleys Of Neptune

Jimi Hendrix

Four decades after his untimely death, Jimi Hendrix is still releasing music. Yeah, he’s that good. Actually, his little sister Janie is minding the store these days, and she keeps uncovering hidden gems and sharing them with the world. In one interview, she said there’s enough stuff in the vault to consistently roll out new Hendrix music for another decade or two. Spearheading the latest Jimi Hendrix reissue campaign is Valleys Of Neptune, packed with 12 previously unreleased recordings put down over a four-month period in 1969.

With the Experience fading in his rearview mirror, Hendrix virtually entrenched himself in the recording studio, tapping into a deep wellspring of creativity and inspiration. In between seemingly endless jams, the guitarist was constantly tinkering with blues standards, revising and embellishing his own music, and writing new material. The countless hours Hendrix spent in the studio underscores an unparalleled dedication to his craft as a musician and sonic architect. One can only imagine the possibilities had Hendrix not succumb to the demons that eventually took his life.

“Stone Free,” which was originally recorded in 1966 with the Jimi Hendrix Experience and appeared on the flip side of the group’s first single “Hey Joe,” is totally revamped here with drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Billy Cox. Cut a little closer to the bone, the track is raw, quick on the draw, and enriched by some intricate fretwork from the master. The chemistry meshes and coagulates to startling levels of intensity on the title track and “Bleeding Heart,” an Elmore James blues number featuring drummer Rocky Isaac. From there, it’s a matter of moving over Rover as the Jimi Hendrix Experience takes over.

The tensions between bassist Noel Redding and Hendrix appear trite and inconceivable when the two, along with Mitchell, come out slugging on “Mr. Bad Luck” (later redeveloped and re-titled “Look Over Yonder”), an instrumental bust-up of Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love,” a captivating take of “Lover Man,” and “Ships Passing Through The Night,” previously unavailable in any form. The visceral versions of “Fire” and “Red House” simply prove the Experience had more juice in its tank given the chance; “Lullaby For The Summer” and “Crying Blue Rain” effectively second that motion.

Sweetly mixed and mastered, Valleys Of Neptune is the melting polar ice cap on top of a frothing volcano spewing repackaged Jimi Hendrix releases. Legacy Recordings is going all out with deluxe CD/DVD editions of Are You Experienced?, Axis: Bold As Love, Electric Ladyland, and First Rays Of The New Rising Sun. The CDs are all remastered while the DVDs include “making of” mini-documentaries directed by Bob Smeaton and feature interviews with Redding, Mitchell, Cox, original producer Chas Chandler and engineer Eddie Kramer.

A reissued Smash Hits, a compilation originally released in 1968, along with a DVD and Blu-ray Disc of Live At Woodstock, pretty much seal the deal on all things Hendrix for 2010. But it's only the beginning as more anthologies, unreleased live performances, DVDs, Blu-ray Discs, and even a Rock Band video game are apparently on the way. A new generation of Hendrix aficionados is in for a very wild ride indeed. Meanwhile, veteran fans have reason to celebrate and part with their hard-earned dollars. Either way, it's anyone’s guess as to when it will ever end. Best you just strap yourself in and hold on for dear life.

~ Shawn Perry

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