The Jimi Hendrix reclamation project continues. The partnership between Experience Hendrix and Legacy Recordings began in early 2010 with the release of Valleys of Neptune, a 12-track collection of previously unreleased material from the late guitar hero. Since then, CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays and box sets have all arrived to keep the Hendrix flame burning bright. And now Valleys of Neptune receives a proper follow-up in the form of People, Hell and Angels (88765 41898 2), a “new” collection of Hendrix songs that even avid collectors of the late artist’s output are unlikely to have heard. The lion’s share of the album was recorded in 1969, with a couple of tracks stretching back to 1968 and one forward to 1970, and the focus is on Hendrix’s trailblazing work outside of the Experience, with drummer Buddy Miles and bassist Billy Cox of the Band of Gypsys era. Valleys concentrated on performances from the classic Experience line-up of Hendrix, drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding, so the style here is quite different if equally intense.
Each new Hendrix album curated under the aegis of Experience Hendrix has sought to right the perceived wrongs of previous regime, or set the record straight, as it were. And so material from posthumously overdubbed and/or edited albums like Crash Landing, Midnight Lightning and Nine to the Universe has been addressed in “pure” versions on albums such as People, Hell and Angels. While it would be easy for the law of diminishing returns to take effect, the good news is that there’s variety and electricity a-plenty to make People, Hell and Angels a worthwhile entry in the Hendrix catalogue. Experience Hendrix’s head, Janie Hendrix, has indicated that this “could be the last of the studio releases.” If so, it’s a fitting conclusion to that particular chapter.
Hendrix’s gift was how he reinvented and melded familiar idioms into an entirely new sound, drawing on various traditional strains but never slavishly imitating them. Much of People, Hell and Angels is steeped, even drenched, in the blues, arguably the root of Hendrix’s greatest music and a starting point for his otherworldly, wailing rock transformations. A standout is “Hear My Train A-Comin’,” previously recorded with the Experience. Hendrix knew that he would arrive at a very different result with Cox and Miles, and he was clearly inspired during this scorching rendition that morphs from trippy funk to gutsy blues. From the same May 21, 1969 session, the new album also includes a stab at Elmore James’ “Bleeding Heart” with singular results. (Valleys of Neptune offered a wholly different recording of the James song.) “Hey Gypsy Boy” is another slow-burning blues original, heard here sans overdubs. Hendrix takes some vocals in his “smooth” falsetto register, and lends the song a low-key, ominous feel with slithery lead guitar.
There’s plenty more after the jump!
“Blues” appears not only in the style, but in the name, too, of three tracks. “Earth Blues” (first aired on 1971’s Rainbow Bridge and 1997’s Experience Hendrix-curated First Rays of the New Rising Sun) is heard here in a galvanizing rendition minus overdubs and with substantially different lyrics. This version (Take 15, per the notes) features just Hendrix, Cox and Miles, and with its infectious “Love, love, love” refrain, it’s Hendrix at his most accessible. “Easy Blues,” a portion of which first appeared on producer Alan Douglas’ “jam” album Nine to the Universe, is far removed from the funky “Earth Blues.” It’s a jazzy exercise in improvisation recorded during the same August 28, 1969 session with Hendrix’s Woodstock band (Larry Lee on rhythm guitar, Mitch Mitchell on drums, Billy Cox on bass and Jerry Velez and Juma Sultan on percussion) as the version of “Izabella” also included on People, Hell and Angels. This previously unearthed “Izabella” is said to be the earliest known recording of the song. Then there’s the brief, album-closing snippet of “Villanova Junction Blues,” a song actually played at Woodstock.
People, Hell and Angels also adds the “R&” to the “B” with a couple of pop-ish tracks that are among its best. Lonnie Youngblood handles the vocals on the energetic, amped-up R&B of “Let Me Move You.” This ebullient, nearly seven-minute take is filled with energy that crackles particularly as Hendrix’s guitar and Youngblood’s saxophone intertwine. Even better is “Mojo Man.” Hendrix’s old friends Albert and Arthur Allen, a.k.a. The Ghetto Fighters, recorded the song with pianist James Booker and the Muscle Shoals rhythm section and horns. But Hendrix sensed what he could bring to the track, and so his guitar (overdubbed in NYC) elevates the song to the next level but doesn’t overpower it. It’s bar none one of the most exciting discoveries here. Whenever Hendrix expanded his musical palette, as with the presence of horns here, the results were never less than interesting and frequently were thrilling. It’s all the more bittersweet to wonder what stylistic paths he might have pursued.
Then there are a couple tracks that offer a window into a familiar song. “Somewhere,” issued in overdubbed form on 1975’s Crash Landing and then in “legitimate” form on the Jimi Hendrix Experience box set, premieres here in a version different from either of the previous two. Making this recording all the more special, Hendrix and Miles are joined by Stephen Stills on bass. There’s no evident discomfort from guitar great Stills as he switches to bass, and the trio are locked in a positively cosmic groove for one of Hendrix’s most sprawling songs of social commentary. “Somewhere” is never in the lyric, though the singer takes us from earth to outer space, hearing “pleas and prayers and a desperate whisper sayin’, Oh, Lord, please give us a helpin’ hand…” and imagining “UFOs jumpin’ themselves/Laughin’ they sayin’/ Those people so uptight, they sure know how to make a mess.” Hendrix almost casually tosses off riffs as if they’re going out of style, riding the wah-wah with no inhibitions.
“Crash Landing,” premiering in a version with Hendrix, Cox, Rocky Isaac on drums and Al Marks and Chris Grimes on percussion, is already proving controversial in various circles. Some vocal collectors are abuzz over what alterations (if any) have been made to the original track, said to be a completely unreleased take from April 1969. Purely on its own merits, the recording here is a welcome addition. Lyrically the song seems directed at a “suffocating” woman and takes in the twin demons of drugs and sex, but the melody and lyric seem secondary to the sizzling performance itself. The instrumental “Inside Out” is a play on the riff that would become “Ezy Rider,” with just Hendrix (on guitar and bass) and Mitchell. It’s not a remarkable composition at this stage, but the power of its primal rock riff was already abundantly clear.
People, Hell and Angels by its nature isn’t a great jumping-on point for Hendrix fans-to-be, but it most certainly does hold up as a collection of songs that, save one or two, don’t feel “unfinished.” It chronicles Hendrix the seeker, searching for a more elaborate sound – and more elaborately funky, bluesy and truthful. Compliments to engineer/mixer Eddie Kramer and mastering engineer Bernie Grundman, the sound quality here is so pristine on most of the tracks that these songs sound as if they were recorded yesterday. In addition, John McDermott provides lengthy track-by-track liner notes explaining the genesis and prior recording and release history of each song. There’s always a visceral thrill in hearing new Jimi Hendrix music for the first time, and as with virtually every posthumous release from the artist, there are moments so galvanizing that it’s hard to believe this music has gone unreleased for so long. During those moments, Hell feels more like Guitar Heaven.
You can order People, Hell and Angels by clicking here. A Target-exclusive edition is also available with a bonus track, “Ezy Ryder/MLK Jam [Captain Coconut],” recorded on January 23, 1970 at the Record Plant.