Classic Rock Review

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Jimi Hendrix Rainbow Bridge (1971)


This second posthumous Jimi Hendrix release may be viewed as hastily-stitched, spanning two years of mostly not-quite-completed recordings in various studios plus a lengthy live extrapolation. But incredibly, no other Hendrix platter, excepting perhaps “Electric Ladyland”, offers a more comprehensive representation of Jimi’s virtuosity. Moreover, this doesn’t even feel slapdash.

Sonically, “Rainbow Bridge” is fuller than anything he had released in his lifetime, again possibly not including “Electric Ladyland”. And therein lied his artistry. Hot guitar licks and riffs are in abundance here and every one of them coheres. Even the imperfect endings on a few numbers, which Hendrix would have dubbed over before official release, work. Unlike “The Cry of Love”, lyrics are primarily kept as subtext here. The concentration is Hendrix’s electric guitar.

The two opening cuts, the single “Dolly Dagger” and “Earth Blues” are both powerful funk and blues workouts. Backing vocals, courtesy of the Ghetto Fighters and the Ronettes respectively, give these songs added dimension to Hendrix’s voice. Both tracks offer personal overtones. He knew that Dolly Dagger real well.

Instrumentals were not prevalent in the Hendrix canon, but here we’re blessed with two great ones. On “Pali Gap”, Hendrix plays sensuously suffused with warmth and it proves to be gorgeous. His studio rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” is radically different than his Woodstock performance. Here its presence is much more august with little of the anger that permeated that classic live cut. Astonishly, this version has his guitar(s) sounding more like Garth Hudson whipping out synthesizers and horns. What an extraordinary feat!

Hendrix’s bottleneck playing comes to the fore on “Room Full of Mirrors” and he somehow manages to approximate the paranoia of this track. The origin of this wry rumination stems from his May 1969 Toronto drug bust. The sound is actually quite frightening as it seems to blurt out this situation to the public. And Hendrix was more a private man offstage.

Side two begins with that explosion of guitars that greets “Look Over Yonder”, this album’s oldest cut circa 1968. It’s a blues performed as adrenaline rush. As with “Electric Ladyland”, he seems to be opening up another world. The falsetto vocalizing, incidentally, provides extra fire.

The closer is “Hey Baby (Land of the New Rising Sun)”, one of his most beautiful soundscapes. More than almost any song in his ouevre, this could have worked in the symphonic setting that he often discussed for his future. It’s that lovely. The structure of the song builds up with minor chords and switches to major in the body of the track. It’s so effectively simple. Lyrically, he dabbles in science-fiction and the imagery dissects escape. That female alien takes him worlds away from earth. And his falsetto towards the end adds to the spiritual desperation of chancing it elsewhere.

And then there’s that live cut sandwiched in between. It’s singularly his most perfect live performance from May 1970 at Berkeley. I, for one, regard this as the most stunning achievement of rock improvisation. In this eleven minute-plus blues epic, there’s not a second that doesn’t belong. By this time in his career, he was playing with Billy Cox on bass and drummer Mitch Mitchell (his greatest support). It’s virtuosity played with dynamic passion, a real rare combination in rock. Mark my words, we’re very fortunate to have this piece of music.

Heaven knows what additional editing that Hendrix, a renowned perfectionist, would have planned. Just like on “The Cry of Love”, he was breaking away from psychedelia and transitioning to more earthbound territory combined with spiritual awakening. And his musical changes seemed to mirror his expanding consciousness. As always, Hendrix was a complete master of his instrument and he established his imprint on all of these songs. His musicianship is an unflawed listening of blues, funk and jazz. But I suspect that it was mostly the blues that remained in his veins until his death. This package is just further confirmation that his passing was perhaps the greatest loss to shaken up the rock world. For the record, so to speak, the Motion Picture that bears the same name stinks.


April 16, 2013 - Posted by | Jimi Hendrix Rainbow Bridge |

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