Classic Rock Review

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


Review I bought this album awhile ago, and unfortunately, the first review I wrote was somehow lost in the system. Since I have a poor at best memory, I had to just hunker down, listen to the CD again and do a proper review….

While definitely not the best Hendrix album, it is probably the best posthumous one (that’s in print, at least), as far as studio work goes. Jimi had an obsession with capturing his ideas on record, and this just further exemplifies that obsession. While I’d obviously get his official recordings (AYE, A:BAS, EL, and BOG) and probably a live record or two (Woodstock, Fillmore East), this does prove to be an excellent record for the person who just can’t get enough Jimi…

Much more polished than “South Saturn Delta,” the release that followed “First Rays…”, this album was meant to compile the material that was to end up on Jimi’s fourth studio effort of the same name. While Jimi originally planned to keep recording and produce a second LP to go with the first, his death unfortunately cut that plan short, and record producers were forced to spread out what had been completed over three posthumous, now out of print releases (Rainbow Bridge, Cry of Love, and War Heroes).

What we have now on “First Rays Of The New Rising Sun,” is an attempt to compile the available material onto one disc, in an order as close to Jimi’s original wishes as possible. Unfortunately, any claims that the CD was produced directly from Jimi’s notes is a half-truth at best. No one could have possibly known Jimi’s plans, especially considering Jimi’s distinct style. He knew of a broad range of music, and so tracks may have been altered to give some a bluesy feel, or a jazzy feel.

Despite this, “First Rays of The New Rising Sun,” is still an incredible album, and still worth picking up if you are an intense Jimi-phile like me. Although some tracks weren’t mixed by Hendrix himself, and at least two tracks weren’t the masters that Jimi had been working at, they still provide fantastic insight into one of the most creative minds of the twentieth century. Intensely beautiful tracks like “Belly Button Window,” “Angel” and “Drifting” are separated by heavy rockers like “Ezy Rider” and mild blues/rock tracks like “Dolly Dagger,” and “Izabella.” Throughout, the album retains a sense of “togetherness,” with a feel that most of the songs fit where they are on the CD. It definitely is an intense listening experience, one that cannot totally be felt by just casual listening while performing other tasks. No, instead, invest in a good pair of headphones, turn out the lights and lay still as you take everything in…

While not being perfect, “First Rays” is probably the best of the posthumous Jimi releases, and definitely worth the time and money it may cost you. Even the liner notes are fantastic, including many rare photos, and almost 25 pages of fantastic track descriptions and essays.

If you fancy yourself a Jimi fan, than this record is for you. If you respect Jimi’s work, than this is for you. Get it, it’s probably one of my top 15 favourite CDs…

*(one warning though): If you have a multi-speaker surround sound system, then you might want to invest in a smaller unit. The mixes are sometimes fuzzy or tinny, and sometimes only are audible from a single speaker. Other than that, I don’t have any real complaints.

Review I think it’s important to understand that this is the closest thing to what Jimi had intended to release in 1971 as the follow-up to the seminal Electric Ladyland album of 1968…

Having said that I have to say that I think this is the most impressive material of his career. These are the tightest batch of songs he recorded in that none of them are too long and all have tremendous hooks and content. The performances here are considerably better than past recordings due in part to the fact these are musicians who have played and toured together for successive years and are literally at the top of their game. And it shows!!!

Hendrix’s vocals are more controlled and less gimmicky and he displays a lot more vocal range in general than before. His guitar parts are more structured and intricate. His solos less sloppy and more developed. His overall aura more tightly defined. And let’s face it. Noel Redding wasn’t the most impressive bass player (he was actually a guitar player by trade) and hearing Billy Cox on bass here makes you realize that Hendrix’s material is far more fluid and soulful w/ him in the mix.

Also, the production quality of the overall sound is better than his previous efforts. So much of it was recorded at his newly built Electric Lady Studios the Summer of 1970 and the fact that they were able to utilize the most state-of-the-art and up to date recording equipment is obvious when you hear the results.

It may be silly to say since Jimi Hendrix has become a bigger rock star since his death, but had he lived and kicked-off the decade w/ this release he would have owned the 70’s. Zeppelin? Sure they were huge then but he would have been THE rock star defining the decade, I’m sure of it.

Just have a listen to “Freedom” w/ it’s locked-in beat, searing, white hot guitar licks, and Jimi’s soulful vocal delivery. THAT is rock n’ roll. “Izabella” continues right where “Freedom” leaves off and that’s a good thing because “Freedom” seems way too short. “Dolly Dagger” and “Ezy Rider” are just pure ear candy. “Stepping Stone” has some of the hottest guitar licks ever recorded. Period. Just listen to the outro solo. “My Friend” is a pleasant surprise w/ it’s Dylan-esque vocals and overall vibe. “In From The Storm” slams you over the head from the first notes of the guitar riff w/ it’s dramatic hard rock delivery. The CD ends w/ the mellow blues of “Belly Button Window” and it’s incredibly creative and sensitive lyrics from the perspective of drummer Mitch Mitchell’s then unborn child.

I realize this was originally compiled and released in CD form back in 1997, but this is the first I’m hearing it and I have to say I’m completely blown away….

April 29, 2013 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix First Rays Of The New Rising Sun | | Leave a comment

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


Hendrix novices should be very careful when it comes to Hendrix postmortem releases: everybody knows there’s at least half a hundred of them, and most are either pathetic rip-offs or lousy live recordings (one of the few most nasty of these is the infamous New York ’68 jam session with a, er, ‘pixilated’ Jim Morrison mostly spitting out obscene copulation metaphors, if you get my drift. Strange enough, it’s available under at least a dozen different titles. Avoid it like plague).

However, since Jimi’s family finally took control over his legacy, things seem to start getting better, and we might hope for a decent, straightened out catalogue appearing soon with all the rip-offs deleted and gone for eternity. So far, most of the interesting stuff that, according to Prindle, Jimi recorded in Heaven and fed-exed down on Earth, has re-surfaced on two of these re-issues: First Rays Of The New Rising Sun and South Saturn Delta (reviewed below).

This concrete album replaces the earlier issued and generally better known Cry Of Love released in March 1971 – the album that Hendrix didn’t have enough time to record, rather like Janis’ Pearl, along with some lesser known tracks. So you might easily dub it ‘the great lost fourth Hendrix album’.

Unfortunately, while I’m not going to argue with the ‘lost’ thing, calling it ‘great’ seems quite an arrogant task to me. ‘Cuz it’s not great at all, in fact, it’s even worse than Electric Ladyland. No, it doesn’t have any fourteen-minute jams – most of the songs are three or four minutes long. And it doesn’t have any dated gimmickry: no buckets of water for the amps that time. But somehow these songs never thrill me as much as his 1967 albums. Say what you want, and I’ll say what I want (again): Jimi’s terrible lack of songwriting ability comes through once again.

Moreover, these songs are as rambling and unsecure as never before: the time was pressing hard on Jimi, and his problems didn’t translate well onto music. Call me crazy, but I think he was in a somewhat Barrett-ish state at the time: stoned nearly out of his mind, personal affairs a mess, the Experience annihilated and musically and artistically exhausted. God only knows what he would go on to make… anyway, let us not digress any more. There are some good compositions on here.

Sometimes Jimi’s tortured soul steps on the surface and he lets go with a blazing, confessional ballad (‘Angel’) that rivals ‘Little Wing’ as his most emotional piece of writing. Sometimes he gets an interesting technical idea – the unique guitar tone on ‘Room Full Of Mirrors’ turns it into a head-spinning psychedelic experience. Sometimes he delivers a scorching blues tune with precise and thought out, Creamy licks that we’re not grown to expect of him (‘Freedom’). Finally, there’s a fantastic riffing excercise (the instrumental ‘Beginnings’). But that’s about it.

Most of the other tracks fall into three categories. First of all, there’s a lot of aimless guitar wanking on uninspired bluesrock tunes like ‘Dolly Dagger’ or ‘Earth Blues’. They’re all fairly impressive from a technical level, but for how long did Jimi expect he could impress us? Nothing can be more impressive than ‘Foxy Lady’! Creatively speaking, they’re all weak. His lyrics are maybe getting more poetic, but I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or a flaw.

It seems obvious he was trying to step off the psychedelic hippie train, but it seemed to be moving too fast for him. So he ends up sounding like a cross between Marty Balin and Jim Morrison, with a slight touch of Syd Barrett again (the stupid cosmic song ‘Astro Man’). To be honest with you, his derivative mystical lines do not impress me in the least: while he was always trying to present himself as the ‘intelligent’ one, I never found any signs of real ‘intelligence’ in Jimi’s lyrics. Pretension, yes, sometimes. But he was mostly ripping off other people, just as well as other people were trying to rip off his songwriting.

Next, the second category is ‘Bad Ballads’. ‘Drifting’, for instance, which just drags for three and a half minutes and tries to sound exalted but just manages to sound phoney, or the overlong title track. Finally, the third category includes a Dylan rip-off: ‘My Friend’ is a feeble imitation of a) Dylan’s singing; b) Dylan’s lyrics; c) Dylan’s arrangements (the drunken company noises remind one of ‘Rainy Day Women’). It’s amusing, but hardly essential for anybody but those whose only aim in life is to prove that Hendrix was a better songwriter than Dylan (fancy that).

So no, I’m not impressed. I do admit that I can’t call the album ‘bad’ in a plain sense of the word. The playing is good, and the decent songs I’ve named above are enough to redeem it. But it’s a serious letdown compared to Jimi’s ‘classic’ works, and had he continued in that blues-o-mystical direction, I’m sure he’d have ruined his career in less than a couple of years. Now wait, maybe the problem is… yes… YES that’s where the rub lies. The album is too long, you see? It’s like seventy damn minutes! Scoop out all the filler and you’ll get a nice little record stuffed with delicacies like ‘Room Full Of Mirrors’ or ‘Angel’.

I respect Jimi as much as anybody, but he never deserved a double album – and he put out one before his death and one after his death. What a silly trick of fortune.

March 10, 2013 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix First Rays Of The New Rising Sun | | Leave a comment

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 | | Leave a comment

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


It’s been nearly 40 years since the most revolutionary guitarist of all time, Jimi Hendrix, passed away. With three landmark studio albums to his name, plus gems of unreleased material left behind, making a proper posthumous studio album with the latter has always been a tough and controversial task.

No one will ever know for sure how Hendrix himself would have sequenced, fine-tuned and what he would’ve named the follow-up to his third and final album in his lifetime, 1968’s seminal double LP Electric Ladyland. We do know however, it was meant to be a big project – a double or triple LP – that the guitarist had been working on for over two years before his death in September of 1970 at age 27.

The first few attempts at posthumous releases, The Cry of Love and Rainbow Bridge from 1971 and War Heroes from 1972 were revealing but felt incomplete. It wasn’t until 1997, when Hendrix’s trusted recording engineer Eddie Kramer and drummer Mitch Mitchell used his last handwritten notes and remastered/resequenced his last tracks on the 17-track-long First Rays of the New Rising Sun that one got a true and mostly satisfying picture of the guitarist’s ever changing musical vision at the time, which struck a more serious tone lyrically and incorporated newer sounds to his repertoire.

13 years later, the newest versions of First Rays, an mp3/digital edition available via online stores such as ScatterTunes, plus a CD+DVD edition out this spring do not exactly enhance the actual sound – not that it’s needed with all the previous remastering over the years. But the former is more convenient for the current digital music age, while the latter contains a viewing experience that does enhance and make you appreciate the audio portion a little more via a new companion 20-minute DVD documentary of the making of this “concept compilation.”

Starring Mr. Kramer (and also former Hendrix bassist Billy Cox and drummer Mitch Mitchell), the DVD gives you the fullest sense yet of how Jimi’s ideas for songs turned from sole guitar tracks and hotel room recordings to full blown full band masterpieces. It also gives insight into the changing dynamics between Jimi, bassist Billy Cox and drummer Mitch Mitchell in recording sessions. For example, they developed a sort of funky rhythmic chemistry and style for songs like “Night Bird Flying.”

The highlights come when Kramer uses his mammoth recording mixer to reveal what Jimi’s individual guitar tracks sounded like in their earliest stages. One song in particular, “Angel,” had Jimi recording all the song’s guitar, bass and drum parts back in 1967, with Kramer giving viewers a clip of what that early recording sounded like as he explained its progression from that demo to full band classic recorded at the guitarist’s then soon to be legendary Electric Lady Studios in NYC.

The aforementioned “Night Bird Flying” gains even more appreciation here as Kramer marvels over the incredible mind of Hendrix while playing the track’s four individual and sophisticated electric guitar parts one at a time, then together as they appeared on the final studio recording.

In all, these 17 tracks contain works from the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the guitarist’s follow-up power trio, the (bluesier) Band of Gypsys (featuring Buddy Miles on drums/backing vocals and Billy Cox on bass). And nearly all of it is phenomenal and shows a high level of creativity on Jimi’s part unmatched by his peers before or since.

One can forever question whether Hendrix himself would’ve included all of these song choices, especially in the forms he left them in. Hard rock instrumental gem “Beginnings,” for example has some scratchy production to it that Hendrix most likely would’ve wanted to do away with before releasing it. After all, the man was a perfectionist in the studio. But it would be a waste of time.

Whether it’s funky or outright rockin’ tracks like “Freedom,” “Izabella,” or “Ezy Ryder” (featuring Buddy Miles on drums and Traffic’s Steve Winwood and Chris Wood on backing vocals), or the softer “Angel,” there is hardly anything to quarrel with as far as quality songwriting material.

As to who needs this previously available collection is concerned, if you’re a late comer to Hendrix or a big fan but want it on your iPod/mp3 player, the digital version is for you. But if you have the 1997 CD version, you don’t necessarily need these new releases unless you are dying for more history on these landmark recordings or are a completist who has to have everything Hendrix.

Whether it’s the new digital First Rays, new DVD-enhanced CD or old, CD-only edition, it’s an essential collection for all Hendrix fans.

May 16, 2010 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix First Rays Of The New Rising Sun | | Leave a comment