Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Jimi Hendrix: Blues

I am always surprised to discover certain releases that I never got around to writing about - like this one. I'm a huge Hendrix fan (as can be determined by the number of times I have sung his praises on this site) and love his psychedelic take on the blues, so this was a natural for me. The songs here come from various situations but are mostly live, inspired Hendrix mania.

The opening number, though, is a rare acoustic track - one used for the documentary movie simply titled Jimi Hendrix. This is a fantastic and fun variation on Jimi's usual wild noise and one that I was fascinated with when I first saw the flick, since I then mostly played a cheap, Montgomery Wards 12-String guitar and I had no idea how Jimi could play such lines! I didn't really realize at the time (I was barely a teen, I think) how quality really affects the play-ability of an instrument and that Jimi tuned down a couple of steps! Great stuff, though!

Some of these cuts are obviously just jams, such as the instrumental take on "Born Under a Bad Sign", but that doesn't mean that the playing is inferior - just not necessarily as "set in stone" as might have been for an official release. Hendrix will take some risks that he might not take otherwise - some that work better than others - so keep that in mind. "Red House" was, of course, the most straight-forward blues in Jimi's original repertoire and there are a couple of versions on this CD, the first being one recorded for the British version of "Are You Experienced" and supposedly not released in the States before, though this doesn't sound much different from the tune that we all know and love.

"Catfish Blues" is Jimi playing with various Muddy Waters songs and giving them an updated, full, rock'n'roll experience. Definitely a precursor to tune like "Voodoo Chile" with some incredible playing, though the inclusion of a drum solo in a blues song is a bit tedious and the rave-up ending a bit of a (pleasant) jolt - but Jimi was never afraid to break convention! As the compilers obviously noted the similarities, an outtake of "Voodoo Chile" is up next - an earlier, looser version of the classic song with the same line up as the official release (Mitch Mitchell, Jack Cassidy and Steve Winwood) that was not quite fully arranged yet. But Jimi, while tentative in some chord changes, still lets fly with some spectacular riffs up until the fade-out ending, which, I assume, indicates that the song most likely fell apart rather than properly ended.

After the traditional opening, Hendrix turns "Mannish Boy" into a funky, upbeat groover with a stompin' drum beat and melodic lead lines - though he does seem to forget some of the words, which leads him to simply scat a while! Then they switch gears completely was a super-slow blues in "Once I Had a Woman", with Jimi  making lots of use of whammy bar and effects pedals. Again, this sounds like pretty much a jam with just a basic structure - and with a harmonica player! That doesn't really work well in this setting though - guess cuz the harp is pretty tentative and Jimi dominates.

"Bleeding Heart" is a more successful mid-tempo blues that has appeared on other collections - and rightfully, as this is pretty damn fantastic blues playing! But, "Jelly 292" is definitely a jam - with piano! - and while there's some cool licks, it is not one of the more memorable tunes here. "Electric Church Red House", though, is another terrific run-through of this classic, this time with keys (organ) added - not sure of the personnel here (though there is an extensive booklet, it doesn't list everyone who plays on each tune) but I would guess that this was Winwood again. According to said booklet, Jimi was frustrated and almost left the studio and walked back in and cut this - putting his frustration into his amazing playing!

Closing out the CD is "Hear My Train A Comin'", originally from the Rainbow Bridge album and another wonderfully classic tune built upon the foundations of Muddy Waters along with many others. One helluva performance and a great finisher for this CD.

No, this isn't the best or most consistent Hendrix album - this is a bit of a hodge-podge put together well after his death, after all - but for fans, this is a must-have!