Friday, March 12, 2010

Jimi Hendrix Experience - Electric Ladyland

I was astonished to notice how little I have written about the biggest influence on my musical life and the greatest electric guitarist in history, but I suppose I was waiting until I acquired the remastered (from the original tapes) CD reissues of his fabulous albums. Well, I have finally done so and couldn’t be happier!

First off, the packaging is spectacular for all of these reissues, with full color, informative booklets, original cover artwork and best of all, bonus DVDs on the making of the albums with original engineer, Eddie Kramer. Kramer still speaks in awe and reverence to Jimi and his immense genius. Eddie was an integral part of the sound of the records and it is a pleasure to see him talk about the sessions. My only complaint is that these are far too short at about 15 minutes or so each. I could hear about these sessions for hours!

Sci-fi sonic washes start this record and you know you are in for some new form of psychedelia from the master of this genre. “…And the Gods Made Love” melds into “Have You Ever Been (to Electric Ladyland)”, one of Jimi’s sweeter and more delicate vocal performances. He was no stranger to ballads in the past, but this one is quite light and damned pretty.

From here we move to the power blast of “Crosstown Traffic”, which, according to the accompanying DVD was almost an excerpt from Axis Bold As Love and one of the few songs that was really produced by Chas Chandler. This is a high-energy rocker, but still in the 3 minute-ish pop single mode. It also, oddly, includes a kazoo solo!

A loose jam became one of the most well-known songs from the album when Jimi pulled Steve Winwood and Jack Casady from a local club/hangout and got them to play on “Voodoo Chile”. The story goes that they really thought they were purely jamming and it wasn’t until Hendrix started the song several times that they realized that the tapes were rolling! This is a magnificent piece, though, with wonderful interaction between Jimi and Steve. Kramer says that Jimi wanted to start a band with Winwood, but they never had the chance – that could have really been something!

Noel Redding gets his composition, “Little Miss Strange” included on this record and it is a nice piece of pop in the “She’s So Fine” (from Axis) vein, but nothing extraordinary. Unfortunately, the same is true of “Long Hot Summer Night” – just not one of Jimi’s better numbers. Not bad, of course, but not special. I do dig their version of Earl King’s early rocker “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)” – Hendrix always put a nice twist on these 50’s numbers.

“Gypsy Eyes” is a good, up-tempo riff-rocker, which shows off the strong interaction between Hendrix and drummer Mitch Mitchell. The two of them would often record tracks without Noel, and I could see how this would work as they definitely play off of each other and work together brilliantly. More experimentation is evident in “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” with its harpsichord backing mixed with Jimi’s wah-wah playing and choruses of voices and effects. One of his more under-rated songs.

Another cool jam is “Rainy Day, Dream Away”, a song about getting stoned and digging the rain. This one is aided and abetted by Freddie Smith on sax (lots of cool interplay with Jimi) and Mike Finnigan on organ (ditto), as well as Larry Faucette on congas and Buddy Miles (later of the Band of Gypsys) on drums. While obviously starting its life as a loose jam, there is real structure here and it turns into a great tune.

“1983…(A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” is another Hendrix epic sci-fi exploration, with plenty of trippy effects and lyrics detailing the re-birth of mankind as sea creatures. This becomes a lengthy studio aural experience that segues into the instrumental “Moon, Turn the Tides…Gently, Gently Away” with more of the same psychedelic effects.

“Still Raining, Still Dreaming” is, naturally, part 2 of “Rainy Day…” with the same personnel. Jimi’s wah-wahed guitar screams out of the speakers for this one and it is an excellent bit of playing all around. More fantastic guitar starts off “House Burning Down”, another terrific tune, this time with a bit of social commentary regarding the inner city riots of the era. He coached this in his own lyrical way, making it not overly obvious and also not overly preachy.

The double album set ended on a double dose of extreme high notes - first with his classic take on Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”, which I dare say many more people know from this version than Dylan’s, and second, the incredible reprise “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”. From the muted “chunka-chunka” guitar into to the fantastic riff to the mind-boggling solo-ing, this is a true masterpiece. More structured than the “original” “Voodoo Chile”, this is the Experience at its finest, with everyone at the top of their game on one of the best blues-rock songs of all time! Just perfect!

This record meanders more than the previous two JME releases, but it is a true vision of what Jimi wanted to achieve in the studio. He loved the aural hallucinations that he could create and the tricks that he could play on your mind and he goes all out here. Not a finely organized set of tunes, but a concept album, which should be taken as such. Truly sad that he never got the chance to release another true studio album. He was taken far too soon.