Jimi Hendrix
Band Rating: 5

  • Are You Experienced?
  • Axis: Bold As Love
  • Electric Ladyland
  • Live At Woodstock
  • Band Of Gypsys
  • First Rays Of The New Rising Sun
  • South Saturn Delta
  • Valleys Of Neptune

    Are You Experienced? (1967)
    Released By: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
    Page Rating: 10
    Overall Rating: 15

    One cannot overestimate the profound impact that Are You Experienced? had on the world of rock. To say that Hendrix's guitarwork was revolutionary would be a gross understatement, as he conjures an array sounds from his trusty axe that had never been heard before in the history of the genre, while the emotive fluidity of his playing can't help but penetrate the very depths of one's soul.

    This is only one aspect of the album's greatness, however. This album isn't simply a parade of self-indulgent guitar experimentation; on the contrary, Hendrix's guitarwork always feels organic and natural over the course of his songs, never feeling tacked on, obstructing the melodies or distracting the listener from his procession of well placed hooks. In this respect Hendrix is able to attach great importance to both his guitar playing and his songwriting, never emphasizing one to the detriment of the other.

    The album is nearly bereft of filler, with only the bonus track Remember feeling like extraneous padding. The rest of the tracks are uniformly excellent, from Hendrix's signature song the riff rocker Purple Haze to the title track which can serve as an anthem for the entire sixties zeitgeist.

    Every track features absolutely phenomenal guitarwork, so that even the generic blues of Red House comes across as a minor masterpiece. Every track acts as both a solid song along with a showcase for his guitar heroics, with numbers like Third Stone From The Sun functioning as an incredible exhibition for his playing, a psychedelic jam filled with astral guitar workouts.

    No album had ever sounded like this, an LP so ahead of its time that it not only redefined what the electric guitar was capable of but also pioneered the genre of hard rock. Between Hendrix's incredible playing and his highly underrated facility for songwriting Are You Experienced? emerges as a true rock and roll masterpiece, one of the very best albums of all time. Filled with guitar driven classics that deftly explore the spectrum of sound the album manages to be both highly experimental and axiomatically entertaining at the same time.

    Thus Are You Experienced? arrived like a revelation to the rock scene, completely reinventing the notion of what the genre was capable of. The album doesn't sound dated in the least, a masterwork that has fully endured the rock and roll vicissitudes of the last few decades to remain one of the cornerstones of the genre. Simultaneously revolutionary and immediately accessible, Are You Experienced? is a musical journey unlike any other, an immortal epic that truly stands the test of time.

    Axis: Bold As Love (1967)
    Released By: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
    Page Rating: 8
    Overall Rating: 13

    Apparently not wanting to be pigeonholed as a mere guitar hero, Hendrix shifts directions on Axis: Bold As Love, diversifying his sound to prove that he was capable of more than guitar acrobatics. Thus many of the songs are mellow pop tunes, a far cry from the parade of rockers that constituted his debut.

    While guitarwork was his true forte, Hendrix was a sufficiently strong songwriter to pull this album off, composing a plethora of catchy pop songs that succeed even without ecstatic solos to animate them.

    This isn't to say that the album is limited exclusively to pop songs. The ballad Castles Made Of Sand is moving despite its rather pedestrian, emotionally manipulative lyrics, while Little Wing is gorgeous beyond words.

    As far as rockers go, Spanish Castle Magic is a great riff-fest with a crunchy guitar tone, while the infamous self-eulogy If 6 Was 9 is a chaotic classic.

    The album opens with an amusing vignette on the subject of flying saucers that promptly segues into a cacophonous sound collage, but this is a rather misleading beginning, as the LP is devoid of any sci/fi anthems of the nature of Purple Haze or astral sonic explorations of the likes of Third Stone From The Sun. On the whole the album is conspicuous for being highly restrained, with most of the pop songs featuring rather conventional arrangements as opposed to the innovative guitar based frameworks that characterized Are You Experienced?

    While this lack of pronounced guitarwork can be frustrating, as is always the case when an artist abstains from practicing his specialty, it's compensated for by the strong songwriting demonstrated throughout the course of the album. Hendrix was more versatile than he'd been given credit for, as displayed by the genre hopping depicted on the album. By penning excellent pop songs, ballads and rockers Hendrix shed the undeserved stigma of being limited to a single style.

    Ergo Axis: Bold As Love is a huge success. It's a testament to Hendrix's genius that he could produce an album of this level of quality without even exercising his greatest strengths. While this conservative attitude toward guitarwork prevents the album from attaining the same heights as its predecessor, Hendrix's songwriting ensures that the LP is still an excellent listening experience, filled with memorable hooks and catchy melodies.

    Ultimately the album's pop excursions are charming and well written, and the rockers contained on the album feature some of the excellent guitarwork that's sadly absent from the rest of the album. Thus the album is a worthy follow up to Are You Experienced?, and the disparities between the two ensure that the listener receives a vastly different experience from each LP. While Hendrix did stray from his strengths, he possessed the talent to enable him to tackle new styles, and most importantly he successfully the album with the patented Hendrix magic.

    Electric Ladyland (1968)
    Released By: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
    Page Rating: 10
    Overall Rating: 15

    While Electric Ladyland isn't comparable with Are You Experienced? on a song for song basis, it delivers a magical experience quite unlike anything encountered before in the world of rock. Hendrix clearly infused each song with his own unique essence, creating an album that amounts to far more than the sum of its parts.

    Which is not to denigrate the quality of the individual songs, however. The album is filled with Hendrix classes, from the beautiful Burning Of The Midnight Lamp to the infamous cover of Dylan's All Along The Watchtower, which while not superior to the original is still an excellent song in its own right.

    Voodoo Chile is a great lengthy jam, reprised in more compact fashion for the album closer Voodoo Child (Slight Return), which adds an incredible riff and a more focused feel when compared to the epic length of its predecessor.

    Elsewhere 1983…(A Merman I Should Turn To Be) begins as a great rocker, subsequently segueing into an aquatic themed sound collage called Moon, Turn The Tides…Gently Gently Away before reverting to its initial form.

    These are but a few highlights, and while the album can be somewhat erratic when individual tracks are isolated and subjected to intense scrutiny every song adds something to the LP, contributing to the overall feel of the experience. Nothing on the album could be construed as qualitatively offensive, and while the album isn't that consistent each song can be thoroughly enjoyed in the context of the LP.

    On this album Hendrix elects to abandon his crusade to escape his guitar hero image, a decision that greatly augments the quality of the album. Hendrix's incredible riffs and solos have returned, adding a dimension to the album that was somewhat lacking on Axis: Bold As Love.

    Between his virtuoso guitarwork and impeccable songwriting Hendrix is able to elevate Electric Ladyland to the level of a work of art, an incredible listening experience that offers a truly magical feel. The disparate elements of the album gel together perfectly to make a brilliant whole, transcending the quality of its individual tracks to provide an enthralling aural odyssey. While it may not be Hendrix's best album, Electric Ladyland remains a true masterpiece, a diverse LP on which every facet of Hendrix comes to the surface to create a kaleidoscopic vision of radiant melodies and sonic textures. It's truly a unique experience in the realm of rock, a testament to Hendrix's genius as both a guitar player and a composer.

    Live At Woodstock (1999)
    Page Rating: 10
    Overall Rating: 15

    From his frenetic improvisations to his deconstruction of the Star Spangled Banner Hendrix's Woodstock performance was the stuff of legends, and after decades of half-baked compilations and an armada of bootlegs the concert is finally available in its entirety thanks to the late master's estate.

    Hendrix was hardly timid in the studio when it came to his guitarwork, but it's only in a live context that his incredible instrumental prowess can be fully unleashed, and Woodstock was an ideal forum for his limitless talents. The result is a live album as essential for Hendrix fans as Live At Leeds is for Who fans, Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out is for Stones fans and Made In Japan is for Deep Purple fans.

    The primary complaint leveraged against the album is that, save the Experience's Mitch Mitchell, Hendrix's backing band had never worked together before, given only a modicum of time to grow accustomed to one another and rehearse the unfamiliar material, resulting in a catastrophic car wreck when the players attempted to gel with one another. While I wouldn't dispute this assertion, Hendrix's guitarwork simply eclipses any backup liabilities, rendering the chaotic backing irrelevant.

    Hendrix has never sounded better than he does on this album, delivering complex, ecstatic solos and powerful riffing with no signs of restraint. The set list presents a collection of tracks highly conducive to this treatment, resulting in over ninety minutes worth of guitar nirvana.

    While the entire performance is strong, Hendrix cleverly arranged it to peak at the end, starting with a thunderous reinvention of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) that provides over ten minutes worth of ferocious jamming, segueing into Jimi's famous rendition of the national anthem, which in turn transitions into an incredible performance of Hendrix's signature rocker Purple Haze, subsequently transforming into two tracks worth of utterly brilliant instrumental improvisation, before finally settling down into the album's closer, Hendrix's first song Hey Joe, which sounds as good as it ever has.

    Overall Live At Woodstock is simply a shattering album, boasting wall rattling solos and some of the most fluid, powerful guitarwork you'll ever find. Hendrix holds nothing back, and the result is a classic live album that demonstrates Jimi's virtuoso skills perhaps better than any other album, which is high praise indeed. Hendrix fully overcomes the flaws of his backing band, carrying the entire album on his guitarwork alone, a feat that nearly no other guitarist could accomplish. Hendrix fans are truly fortunate that in 1999 the album finally saw the light of day, as any fan's Hendrix collection would be woefully incomplete without it.

    Band Of Gypsys (1970)
    Page Rating: 5
    Overall Rating: 10

    Apparently Hendrix felt that he'd betrayed his African American heritage due to his time with the exclusively white Experience; ergo, to rectify this dilemma, he assembled an all black backing band for the first time in his career.

    While Band Of Gypsys is a live album, it consists solely of new material, with two thirds of the content penned by Hendrix and the remaining third composed by drummer Buddy Miles. As Hendrix met his demise a month after the release of the album he was never afforded the opportunity to bring his newfound group into the studio, rendering this album a highly important historical document.

    Band Of Gypsys focuses primarily on generic r & b, funk and soul, which greatly limits Hendrix's guitarwork; whereas in the past his playing would be diverse and imaginative, due to his stylistic constraints on this album his performance is largely standard and predictable, giving Band Of Gypsys an unfortunately uniform sound.

    This isn't to say that his guitarwork is bad; on the contrary, his prowess as a guitarist remains exceptional, and it's one of the few things that makes the album worthwhile. It's merely frustrating to listen to Hendrix's boundless skills as a guitarist impeded by the framework of the album.

    For the most part Hendrix's songwriting is thoroughly unexceptional, with a parade of bland r & b tracks only redeemed by the occasional solid riff. The exception to this rule is Machine Gun, an epic anti-war protest anthem highlighted by its riffage and percussion emulating, as the title would suggest, the sound of a machine gun.

    As prosaic as Hendrix's songwriting tends to be on the album, however, Miles' compositions are exceedingly worse, to the extent that they can't even be salvaged by Hendrix's excellent guitarwork.

    This isn't the only department in which Miles mars the album, however. His vocals, be they on his own songs or functioning as ill advised embellishments on Hendrix's tracks, are consummately noxious, acting as a perpetual thorn in the side of the album.

    Overall Band Of Gypsys is a highly disappointing outing for Hendrix. Between the lackluster songwriting, the context induced inhibition of Jimi's guitarwork and the merely serviceable caliber of the backing band the album lacks nearly all of what made Hendrix such an incredible performer.

    Having thrived in the past largely due to his creative, experimental and diverse nature, Hendrix's diminishment to a mere player in a typical r & b outfit prevents Jimi from exercising the bulk of his talents, reducing him to the role of a simple, highly skilled but generic guitarist. This is exacerbated by the lack of chemistry with his fellow musicians, which thus amounts to an overall poor outing for Hendrix. His exceptional skills as a guitarist ensure that the album remains solid and enjoyable, but by his own standards Band Of Gypsys is a rather pedestrian affair.

    First Rays Of The New Rising Sun (1997)
    Page Rating: 7
    Overall Rating: 12

    First Rays Of The New Rising Sun is often heralded as the great lost Hendrix album, and I wouldn't contest this assertion; while it has its share of filler and never attains the startling heights of the big three, it remains a strong album, and one that any fan of Hendrix should be happy is finally available.

    Culled from Hendrix's final studio sessions, the album compiles seventeen tracks that had never appeared on any previous albums (barring the plethora of Hendrix knockoffs that legions of fans were bombarded with subsequent to his demise), rendering it an essential listen for any fan of Jimi.

    While Hendrix isn't at his peak on the album, it's still a solid collection of rock songs, certainly vastly superior to the effluvia offered on Band Of Gypsys. The album opens on a strong note with the anthemic rocker Freedom, and goes on to feature Hendrix classics like the gorgeous ballad Angel and the vibrant, chaotic rocker Room Full Of Mirrors.

    As far as drug addled, deteriorating musicians go, First Rays Of The New Rising Sun is a far cry from Syd Barrett on Madcap Laughs; despite his imminent narcotics induced demise Hendrix remains in good form throughout the album, offering only a modicum of indications that his faculties were degenerating. Hendrix sounds perfectly confident on this album, playing guitar as only he can and concocting myriad strong riffs and melodies.

    Ergo First Rays Of The New Rising Sun is as strong a swansong as one could hope for, an entertaining array of tracks that fail to betray his declining condition. While there are no top tier Hendrix classics present, the majority of the songs are well written and enjoyable and, as always, greatly ameliorated through the medium of Jimi's incredible guitarwork.

    Despite never receiving the level of polish the album would have been the recipient of had Hendrix lived to oversee the proper studio production, the tracks all sound fine, with no overly thin arrangements. While some of the songs are a bit rough around the edges and certainly could have benefited from some studio attention, all that's ever truly necessary on a Hendrix album are his guitarwork and vocals high in the mix, rendering all other musical accompaniment superfluous (not to denigrate the excellent backing Hendrix had had with the Experience behind him, which certainly enriched those products enormously).

    In the end First Rays Of The New Rising Sun is a far cry from the exploitive posthumous cash-ins that riddle the discographies of most rock artists who pass away at a young age, succeeding in nothing save tainting the musician's reputation with an embarrassing, half-baked unfinished album. While the album may have been released for cynical reasons it remains a strong outing that in no way tarnishes Hendrix's image. The closest thing to a true fourth studio album that one can ever hope to find, FRotNRS is a true Hendrix LP, filled with the skillful songwriting and stunning performances that one would expect to find on a real Hendrix album.

    South Saturn Delta (1997)
    Page Rating: 8
    Overall Rating: 13

    One must always be wary of rarities collections, especially in cases such as this wherein an armada of Hendrix knockoffs were released in the wake of his untimely demise, all professing to contain forgotten treasures from Jimi's past.

    Fortunately, however, once Hendrix's estate assumed control of Jimi related releases they remedied the situation, first releasing First Rays Of The New Rising Sun to account for his output in his final recording sessions and subsequently unveiling South Saturn Delta to compile his prior erstwhile unavailable recordings, thus appeasing nearly all Hendrix fans in the process.

    While not every track on South Saturn Delta is a fully accomplished song, Hendrix's masterful guitarwork successfully salvages all the lesser numbers while further augmenting the already strong material.

    Given this album's penchant for bombarding the listener with an hour plus worth of driving riffs and ecstatic solos it can be an exhausting aural experience, but it's also a highly rewarding one; South Saturn Delta eclipses its rarities collection predecessor, which, given that album's quality, is no small feat.

    South Saturn Delta is a true testament to Hendrix's virtuoso skills as a guitarist, filled with incredible guitarwork and awe inspiring solos. From his amazing riffage on Here He Comes (Lover Man) to the sonic nirvana of his astral jamming on The Stars That Play With Laughing Sam's Dice, Hendrix's talents are on full display here, transfiguring every song on the album into a spectacular showcase for his seemingly limitless skills as a musician.

    There are some rather dispensable tracks, such as a version of All Along The Watchtower that isn't sufficiently different from the rendition on Electric Ladyland to merit an inclusion, but the majority of the tracks are exceptionally strong, gripping listeners with Hendrix's incredible playing and never releasing them until the album's over.

    In addition to Here He Comes (Lover Man) and The Stars That Play With Laughing Sam's Dice, other highlights include the tenebrous instrumental Midnight with its procession of amazing riffs and the Dylan cover Drifter's Escape (which inspires one to wonder if Hendrix had ever listened to any Dylan albums besides John Wesley Harding, which isn't to disparage that album; it's a brilliant masterpiece and one of Dylan's best), which, as he had done with All Along The Watchtower, converts the song into a powerful rocker.

    Overall South Saturn Delta is an invaluable addition to Hendrix's discography for any fan of Jimi, an album that's truly surprising with its level of quality. These are indeed rarities that can be listened to for reasons other than obsessive completist tendencies or as historical curiosities for rock scholars; the songs are nearly all highly enjoyable, never once betraying their status as forgotten rarities.

    Ergo South Saturn Delta is a necessity for any Hendrix fan, an album filled with clever riffs and impeccable guitarwork. While it lacks the polish of the big three, it remains a deeply absorbing and rewarding listen, providing fans starved for more Hendrix with some much needed nourishment.

    Valleys Of Neptune (2010)
    Page Rating: 8
    Overall Rating: 13

    It's been remarked that thanks to the miracle of recorded sound a rock artist never truly dies. When viewed in the context of fans continuing to experience the music of their favorite musicians long after the artists' passing, there's a measure of truth to that statement. What people tend to forget, however, is that this phenomenon isn't confined to fanboys enthusiastically head-banging to the beat of their rock idols, as there's a far more practical application for this pseudo-immortality, one that can be easily understood once one realizes that an artist's commercial viability extends well beyond the grave.

    For no rock artist is this more true than Jimi Hendrix. As his life was tragically cut short at an early age, there remains a voracious demand for more content from the legendary axe-man. This reality did not escape the notice of the major record labels, who accordingly unleashed a never-ending onslaught of crude, hastily and haphazardly compiled Hendrix-related paraphernalia. Ranging from coarse demos with abrasive sound quality to barely audible live albums to half-baked rarities collections, there was no end to the shameless exploitation and perversion of Jimi Hendrix's legacy.

    Fortunately, ever since the Hendrix estate took an active hand in supervising the release of these albums, their caliber has been improved dramatically. With the rights to Hendrix's body of work finally in the hands of those intent on preserving and honoring his reputation, the posthumous chapter of his discography is no longer a chain of cynically-minded cash-ins, but rather an array of tastefully presented rock albums that are actually worth listening to.

    While First Rays Of The New Rising Sun is the closest that one will come to a real new Hendrix album, and South Saturn Delta is an accomplished set of impressive rarities, Valleys Of Neptune may very well be the best release to fall under the neo-Hendrix banner. Consisting of twelve never-before-released cuts with nary a misfire in the bunch, the album effortlessly accomplishes the daunting task of proving its right to stand alongside timeless masterworks like Are You Experienced and Electric Lady Land in Hendrix's canon. It's obviously vastly inferior to those classics, but even being permitted to be mentioned in the same breath as those sacrosanct masterpieces is one of the highest honors imaginable.

    It's hard to believe that after all these decades there are still previously unreleased Hendrix tracks that merit attention, and this can be explained by the fact that the assembly of the album was less a case of selecting a few choice cuts from a list of readily available candidates and more a case of advanced archeology.

    Those in charge of compiling the album were forced to prowl derelict recording studios in search of timeless artifacts buried amongst the debris and detritus of discarded demos and deteriorating recordings. Many of the tracks on Valleys Of Neptune were only discovered recently, found purely by luck and chance.

    Thus the title track, a long sought after number that Hendrix fans have been salivating over for decades, was finally found in its entirety. Better still, unlike the first batch of Hendrix toss-offs the sound quality on the album is crystal clear, so that the song Valleys Of Neptune can be enjoyed as it was intended.

    This pristine sound quality extends to every track on the collection, as producing the album was clearly a labor of love. The track Valleys Of Neptune itself is a superb song that's well worth the wait, and its presence alone makes the CD indispensable for any Hendrix fan, but the other songs sustain this level of quality throughout.

    While perusing through the track listing one could be forgiven for thinking that the alternate versions of classic Hendrix cuts are filler or padding, but this couldn't be further from the case. The versions of Fire and, especially, Stone Free, are significantly reworked and sound better than ever, while the elongated Red House is quite simply a showcase for some of the best guitarwork of Hendrix's career.

    Truth be told, the Hendrix-original Hear My Train A Comin' could easily be mistaken for a cover of an old blues standard, as the songwriting involved lacks any trace of his personality or distinctive voice. However, while it may not matter that Hendrix wrote it, it most assuredly matters that Hendrix performed it, as he manages to infuse a somewhat generic structure with the vitality and passion that always characterizes his work. Hendrix could always animate even the most stale and tired musical clichés with new life and purpose, and thus even when his songwriting fails his guitarwork will invariably save the situation.

    There are two covers on the album, and both are superb. Elmore James' Bleeding Heart once again demonstrates Hendrix's mastery of the blues genre, while Cream's psychedelic masterpiece Sunshine Of Your Love is transfigured into a stellar instrumental complete with incredible solos. Just as Clapton deftly handled Hendrix's Little Wing, Hendrix returns the favor with this rousing rendition of one of Clapton's calling-cards.

    Elsewhere Mr. Bad Luck, Lover Man and Ships Passing Through The Night are apt demonstrations of how Hendrix's songwriting and performances can come together to create something truly magical.

    The album ends with a pair of brilliant instrumentals, Lullaby For The Summer and Crying Blue Rain. Each is an example of quintessential Hendrix, and no one ever has or will be able to duplicate his one of a kind musical voice. Both tracks are treasures that were nearly irrevocably lost, and their presence here is indeed something to be thankful for.

    Thus Valleys Of Neptune is far more than a quick payday for a record label, but rather a rock album that can be enjoyed just as one enjoys any other collection of high quality rock songs. The songs aren't enjoyed for historical reasons, out of respect for the dead or as intriguing curiosities, but because they're examples of the genre at its finest by one of the best artists to ever work in the medium.