Music review: Jimi Hendrix, Valleys of Neptune

Posted: March 22, 2010 in Album Reviews

It’s amazing Jimi Hendrix produced so much music in a very brief period of time. Forty years after his oh so untimely death, new albums are still being released. OK, so many of these posthumous releases are somewhat repetitive, but at least the music is in the proper hands to do these releases justice. A few years ago, the Hendrix family acquired the rights to his music, resulting in tasteful packages that would make the master proud.
Janie Hendrix, the legendary guitarist’s stepsister, said there’s enough material for a decade worth of releases, and if they approach the quality of the most recent album, Valleys of Neptune, which came out earlier this month, I’ll be on board.
Hendrix put out just three studio albums in his lifetime (all re-released in pristine sound quality the day “Valleys” came out), with the last one, Electric Ladyland coming out in late 1968, almost a full two years before his death.
However, Hendrix was constantly recording in the final two years of his life, mapping out which direction he wanted to go next. He broke up his power trio, The Experience, (the final days of that band are documented on nine of the 12 songs on this album) in April 1969, eventually teaming up with Buddy Guy in the Band of Gypsys and recording a bevy of blues numbers in this time.
He also was working nonstop on his next studio album, which never saw the light of day because he passed away before he could release it. He had two albums worth of material, much of it haphazardly released over the following decade in inferior packages such as The Cry of Love, Crash Landing and War Heroes.
This was finally taken care of in 1997, when Experience Hendrix put out the wonderful First Rays of the New Rising Sun which is reportedly what Hendrix wanted to call his fourth album.
But I’m getting off track here (easy to do when talking about a true legend). The music on Valleys of Neptune provides a snapshot into everything Jimi did best. There are re-recordings of some of his earliest work, which he felt was rush-released and needed tweaking. New versions of “Stone Free,” “Fire,” and “Red House” are every bit as good as the originals, and in some ways better. (He takes out the cheesy “move over Rover” line in “Fire”, for instance). There are blistering blues originals like “Hear My Train A’ Comin” and “Crying Blue Rain”. A few songs are clearly skeletal versions of more popular tunes. “Lullaby for the Summer” is an instrumental based on the kick-ass riff that would become “Ezy Rider,” one of his finest latter-day tracks. And “Ships Passing in the Night” contains elements of the later tune “Night Bird Flying.”
Also included on the album are a pair of wonderful covers. Jimi takes the Experience through a version of Elmore James’ “Bleeding Heart”. He even tells the band “I’m gonna do this just like Elmore James” in the intro of the song. Hendrix also leads the band through a blazing instrumental version of Cream’s signature song, “Sunshine of Your Love.”
But perhaps the best thing on the album is one of the rarest tunes, a song available only to the shrewdest of bootleggers, “Valleys of Neptune.”
For a song I’d never heard of, I didn’t expect a ton. But it’s a great tune, with fully realized spacey lyrics about a far-away land and of course, the always present mesmerizing guitar work.
For Hendrix fanatics, the album is a must. And for those who have never heard the master, it’s a decent place to start (although any of his four studio albums are still better). More than anything, it proves that even when Hendrix was messing around in the studio, he produced better music than most people on their best days.

The Sod review: ****

Other releases by Jimi Hendrix in my collection
Are You Experienced (1967) *****
Axis: Bold as Love (1968) *****
Electric Ladyland (1968) *****
Band of Gypsys (1970) **** 1/2
First Rays of the New Rising Sun (1997) **** 1/2
Live at the Isle of Wight (2002) *** 1/2

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Comments
  1. Evan says:

    I couldn’t agree more..nice review. My favorite tunes are Bleeding Heart and Lover Man. They actually edited the song Valleys of Neptune from the versions that have circulated on the underground collector scene which bothered me because they are great guitar parts. Otherwise, love the entire thing.

    • Andrew Sodergren says:

      It truly is amazing how much material the man recorded in such a short period of time. I look forward to all the upcoming releases.

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