Classic Rock Review

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Jimi Hendrix First Rays Of The New Rising Sun (1997)


We can only guess what Jimi would’ve officially released had he not died, but with the help of the Hendrix estate, who in the 1990s got the rights to his back catalogue and sought to rectify past wrongs with regards to the many dubious posthumous releases bearing his name (most spearheaded by producer Alan Douglas), this is as close as we’re likely to get to what Jimi envisioned his next album being at the time of his passing.

Most of the material here was previously on The Cry Of Love and Rainbow Bridge, both originally released in 1971 but now out of print, but by most accounts this remastered 17-track edition is closer to what he had intended, which was to release another ambitious double album a la Electric Ladyland. At the time, Jimi was beset by a myriad of problems, including the previously remarked upon legal hassles with Chalpin, the stress of building his own Electric Lady studio (for which he incurred the wrath of the local Mafia!), pressure from the black power movement to make his music more black (which he was gradually doing) and political, and of course the drug problem that killed him.

He was also unsure of his musical direction (you can only totally reinvent music once, after all), so he surrounded himself with the people he felt most comfortable with – Mitchell who he had a phenomenal musical rapport with, Cox who was a serviceable bassist but more importantly was his old Army buddy from before he even hit the chitlin’ circuit, and Eddie Kramer, who again engineered – and worked on what was for him comparatively straightforward songs for the most part.

Of course, the songs released on this album are far more straightforward than what the actual release likely would’ve been after Jimi the weirdo producer got through with them, but what we have here is generally earthier and more r&b/funk-based than usual, with shorter songs and Jimi’s voice sounding more melodic and further up in the mix than usual.

And while some of the material here is unremarkable, sounds promising but is clearly unfinished, or is flat-out forgettable (“Stepping Stone,” “Astro Man”), I find the majority of this album to be extremely enjoyable for what it is, even if it’s a far cry from the three classic Experience albums. That said, the album would’ve benefited from being briefer, and when I play it I often program the 12 or so tracks that I really like rather than listen to all of it.

As for highlights, “Freedom” is a funky, rocking anthem with lashing guitars, and “Izabella” contains worldly rhythms, catchy chants, and more cutting guitar. Indeed, he may not be breaking any barriers here, but Hendrix remains one heckuva guitar player, as evidenced on funky hard rockers with fiery fretworks such as “Dolly Dagger” and “Ezy Rider,” the former inspired by groupie girlfriend Devon White, the latter by the cult movie.

“Room Full Of Mirrors” is a propulsive hard rocker with a liquidy, luminous guitar tone (Ernie Isley was likely taking notes), the obviously unfinished but still worthy “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” likewise hits hard and has an impressive guitar solo, “Earth Blues” is loose, funky, fast-paced, and explosive and is enhanced by catchy female backing chants (in addition to Jimi’s guitar exploits, naturally), and “In From The Storm,” despite its blatant rip-off of the Jeff Beck Group’s “Rice Pudding” at the very end, invents a seemingly new genre, metallic soul. On the mellower front, the dreamy ballad “Angel,” the most famous song here, is a legitimate radio classic on which it’s hard not to think of Jimi’s sad passing, and “Drifting” is another pretty Curtis Mayfield styled soft soul ballad.

I also find myself enjoying admittedly minor efforts such as “Night Bird Flying,” which is decidedly different but has some great groovy playing, and the loose, off the cuff “My Friend,” which I also have an odd affinity for due to its atypical nature. Generally speaking, when compared to his Experience albums these songs are far less “far out” and are therefore less interesting, even if the Black Panther Party was likely to be more pleased with them.

Still, though I’d rank few of these songs as classic Hendrix, on the whole I’m very pleased with this album as well; in fact, I’d say that any Jimi Hendrix collection isn’t quite complete without it.

March 4, 2013 - Posted by | Jimi Hendrix First Rays Of The New Rising Sun |

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