After 40 years, a number of ill-conceived posthumous albums, and countless bootlegs, one would almost have to be skeptical of a new album billed as “12 previously unreleased studio recordings — almost 60 minutes of unheard Jimi Hendrix!”
The good news is that Valleys of Neptune largely delivers on that promise. Even hardcore collectors will likely be surprised at how much of this album they haven’t heard. But much of this material has been available before in some form, official and otherwise. Although there were tons of posthumous overdubs, elements of these very versions of “Stone Free” and “Hear My Train Comin'” were used as building blocks for the versions on Crash Landing and Midnight Lightning, respectively. Additionally, this version of “Stone Free” was included on 2000’s The Jimi Hendrix Experience box set, the only difference being that Noel Redding’s bass and vocals were replaced with Billy Cox’s bass from a slightly later studio session.
An excerpt of the tune “Valleys of Neptune” was released as part of the Lifelines radio program box set, but that track (“Mr. Bad Luck” [aka “Look Over Yonder”]) and “Lullaby for the Summer” (basically an instrumental version of “Ezy Rider”) were all well-known to collectors. However, Eddie Kramer’s fresh mixes make them all sound better than ever. “Fire,” “Red House,” and “Sunshine of Your Love” are obviously well-known tunes, but these versions will most likely be new even to collectors.
“Ships Passing Through the Night” (later transformed into “Night Bird Flying”) and “Crying Blue Rain” are easily the rarest tracks here, and may well be surfacing for the very first time. The songs all sound mostly to completely finished; they definitely aren’t just rough demos that got added to after the fact (although Mitch and Noel did do additional recording in 1987 for three of these tunes). Most of the tracks have multiple guitar parts, although Jimi probably would have replaced some of these guitar parts. It’s not that they’re at all bad, but some aren’t perfect, and Jimi Hendrix was a perfectionist.
“Crying Blue Rain” feels like just a studio jam (albeit a good one), and “Sunshine of Your Love” goes on just a bit too long with an unnecessary bass solo, but the rest sounds surprisingly finished and complete (and being studio recordings, the sound quality is excellent throughout).
While it doesn’t rise to the level of his other studio albums, Valleys of Neptune is a welcome catalog addition from a tremendous talent who died too young.
For a guy who only released three or four albums in his lifetime, Jimi Hendrix is certainly more prolific in death. No less than 10 different albums of new studio material have emerged in the 40 years since Hendrix’s death, and today we see the release of the 11th such album, Valleys of Neptune.
It’s part of a joint effort by the Hendrix estate and Sony, cataloging and reissuing everything that Hendrix recorded. Valleys of Neptune contains seven previously unreleased studio tracks and five new recordings of some well known songs.
A lot of this stuff was recorded in 1969 after the release of Electric Ladyland using a variety of back-up musicians. The original Experience (Mitch Mitchell on drums and Noel Redding on bass) play on many of the cuts, including “Fire” and “Red House,” cut for Hendrix’s 1967 debut Are You Experienced?
There are also a couple of excellent cover tunes, including an Elmore James blues, “Bleeding Heart,” originally released on 1972’s War Heroes but included here as an alternate, extended version. The fireworks really go off on Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love,” played as an instrumental with Jimi’s guitar pyrotechnics taking center stage.
One of the great “lost” Hendrix tracks, “Valleys of Neptune,” shows up here with a remix that makes it sparkle. Mitchell drums on this one, but they’re joined by Hendrix’s long-time bassist Billy Cox from the Band of Gypsys – it’s a nice signature tune for Hendrix, with typically spacey lyrics and breathtaking guitar runs, easily the best of the unreleased material.
As an album, Valleys of Neptune is naturally not very cohesive: the majority of this material sounds like rehearsals obviously never intended to show up on a commercial release, or at least unpolished early takes. Even so, you can hear the obvious craftsmanship that went into making music back then, a trait sorely lacking on many releases by today’s top rock practitioners. The Hendrix people promise there’s a lot more left in the vault, and I wonder what the quality of that material may be.
At any rate: this is Hendrix, man. If you’ve ever wondered about this guy’s legend, Valleys of Neptune may not be the place to start exploring. But if you’re in the mood for some good, old-fashioned psychedelic rock, put it on and fire up a fatty – this music will certainly take you on a little trip.
Valleys Of Neptune is the opening salvo of what we’re promised is a “monumental” 2010 Hendrix Catalogue Project, involving various CD/DVD reissues of the original studio albums and, doubtless, several more ransackings of the tape vaults like this.
Heralded as representing the foundations for the follow-up to Electric Ladyland, all that Valleys Of Neptune confirms is that by this late stage of his career, Jimi was effectively a spent force creatively.
Why else would he bother to re-record studio takes of “Fire” and “Red House” again, two years after their appearance on his debut album? Or record a blues jam such as “Hear My Train Comin'” which borrowed so much from “Voodoo Chile” to such inferior ends? These are surely just warm-ups, just as the likes of “Stone Free” and Elmore James’s “Bleeding Heart” are rehearsals to help “bed in” Band Of Gypsys bassist Billy Cox.
As for the new material such as “Crying Blue Rain”, “Ships Passing Through The Night”, “Lullaby For The Summer” and “Valleys Of Neptune” itself, they sound like structural sketches, nondescript half-ideas that werenever developed. The early Experience try-out “Mr Bad Luck” is of little musical interest, while “Fire” and “Red House” offer the most compelling performances.
“Valleys of Neptune” is a previously unreleased, and highly anticipated, collection of track recordings which were unearthed by archivist John McDermott; he produced the new album with Eddie Kramer, the engineer who worked with Hendrix himself, and Jimi’s stepsister Janie, who now runs his company. The tracks were recorded in New York and London in 1969.
Master of the Blues
Prior to this release, the Hendrix estate reissued many trashy products featuring the artist’s music, but with the release of “Valleys of Neptune,” fans will be spellbound by the lethally vivid and soulful blues rifts presented within this album.
The title track has a funky guitar line with the à la Hendrix terrestrial hum; the lyrics echo the artist’s poetic flair with a dash of pain and a glimmer of hope. Listening to this tune, one can clearly recognize how the group and now-defunct band of the 90’s, the Arc Angels, were influenced by the Hendrix Experience.
A Masterful Instrumental Of A Cream Masterpiece
The album features a cover of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” that may have the slow hand of Eric Clapton brooding over the vigorous, instrumental version that Hendrix and the tight-fitting Experience blast out for music hounds. Furthermore, Hendrix’s version of Elmore James’ “Bleeding Heart” gives a hard-hitting blues rivalry for the other strictly instrumental track on the album, “Lullaby for the Summer”. “Mr. Bad Luck,” another Elmore James cover, and “Red House” are indeed funk-filled, energetic, and alive with all the Hendrix effects.
Some Classic Rock ‘n’ Roll
The terrifically bluesy track “Ships Passing through the Night,” with its mind bending horns and chugging riffs from the blues master himself, presents classic Hendrix, as does “Hear My Train a Comin’.” Speaking of classics, the versions of “Stone Free” and “Fire” offers more brilliance cleaner than the original versions, which is refreshing to the ears. Still, other tracks on this album offer more of the inventive style of the Experience fans just can’t get enough of.
From BBC Music
The latest posthumous Hendrix album offers underwhelming ‘new’ material.
Apart from Axis: Bold As Love outtake Mr Bad Luck (a prototype Look Over Yonder), the dozen songs herein are studio recorded tracks laid down after 1968’s Electric Ladyland but before Hendrix began work proper on First Rays of the New Rising Sun. Most feature the original Jimi Hendrix Experience, two have Billy Cox in place of Noel Redding on bass, one features Hendrix and other musicians.
This, though, is not some kind of great lost missing link album. Several of the tracks, like the cover of Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love and Elmore James’ Bleeding Heart, and a trio of rehashed Experience favourites, were done as studio warm-ups or rehearsals for forthcoming concerts. Even the conventional studio tracks mostly feel as cold and flat as rehearsals, rather than layered and nuanced in the manner of LP cuts. Additionally, the fact that these 12 tracks have a running time of an hour is a bad sign. That Hendrix was always best when he combined virtuosity with brevity is demonstrated by the flaccid eight-minute version herein of Red House, which can’t hold a candle to the taut, classic Are You Experienced original.
The core of the album is four tracks previously unreleased in any format. It’s an underwhelming quartet. Lullaby for the Summer starts out interesting courtesy of an exciting riff, but it soon disappointingly dawns that there are no vocals, while Hendrix’s solo is caterwauling. Ships Passing Through the Night is okay, but essentially just an identikit 12-bar blues with above-average guitar passages. The title-track is dreamlike and slick, but possessed of the type of rather aimless melody line that afflicted Hendrix’s work in later years. Closer Crying Blue Rain is, unlike anything else here, poised and rich. However, it has no vocals, peters sloppily out and (like Mr Bad Luck) is rendered historically worthless by additional bass and drum recording done in 1987.
The fact that this climax comprises the closest thing to a substantial recording on the album is an indictment of a release that one suspects would not have made the stores had the Hendrix estate not wished to offer a bone to new label Sony following the end of their distribution deal with Universal.
Given Jimi Hendrix’s stature as one of the all-time greatest rock guitarists, the release of any new, previously unreleased material from the 40-years-dead guitar god tends to be cause for celebration. And why the hell not? Much of his barrel-bottom scrapings have more soul in them than the master cuts of more skillful axe-wankers. If you’re going to bliss out on wankery, there were few better practitioners of the art than Jimi Hendrix.
Concurrently, given that more vault material from Hendrix has seen the light of day than artist-authorized, finished recordings, it’s also cause for scrutiny.
Now, I’m not a serious Hendrix bootleg collector, so I can’t speak for the true “rarity” status of any of the material comprising Valleys of Neptune, the first release under the Hendrix estate’s new partnership with Sony’s Legacy imprint. I can tell you, however, that if you’ve bought any of the compilations that Hendrix’s official imprint, Experience Hendrix, has released over the past 13 years via MCA/Universal, you’re already going to be familiar with different versions of up to eleven of the album’s twelve tracks.
The majority of Valleys was recorded between February and May of 1969, which was basically the last gasp of the original Jimi Hendrix Experience. Jimi broke that band up for a reason, so, how much you’ll enjoy this album ultimately depends on how much you already like Hendrix, and how much tolerance you have for hearing familiar songs played in variations that, as you’d probably guess, aren’t quite as assured and confident in their presentation as the classic master recordings.
One song in particular that falls into the latter category to these ears is the one song that has already gained the most attention – “Valleys of Neptune.” Given that Hendrix returned to this recording for some sweetening in May of 1970 after initially laying it down the previous September, it’s a wonder he didn’t try to rerecord it entirely. But then again, the songs he had lined up for First Rays of the New Rising Sun were on a whole different level in terms of feel, energy and themes, and if you’ve heard those tunes, it’ll be clearly evident why Hendrix would have left “Valleys” to collect dust.
On top of this, we get to hear interesting but, again, relatively energy-deficient takes on old stand-bys like “Fire” and “Red House,” a funkier arrangement of Elmore James’ “Bleeding Heart” that foreshadows the awesome First Rays track “Dolly Dagger,” and an over-long instrumental take on Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” that was more concisely and entertainingly presented on the 1998 BBC Sessions compilation.
And in the “truth in advertising” department, let’s also call the “new” unearthed tracks “Ships Passing Through the Night” and “Lullaby For the Summer” exactly what they are – embryonic, early versions of “Night Bird Flying” and “Ezy Rider,” respectively. These are fascinating takes, to be sure, but by the time we get to the final track, the lazy instrumental “Crying Blue Rain,” the lingering question becomes: “why didn’t the Hendrix family use the discovery of this cache of material as an excuse to repackage First Rays of the New Rising Sun with revised cover art reflective of what Hendrix himself actually sketched out (documented in Steven Roby’s Black Gold biography), along with these recordings as a ‘bonus’ disc?” Of course, that could be the big plan for the 50th anniversary of his death, but hey, who knows how these folks think?
As we’d hope though, there definitely is a silver lining here, besides the mere fact that it’s Hendrix. The true gem on Valleys of Neptune is a seven-and-a-half minute studio take on what might be the perennial latter day Hendrix concert staple, “Hear My Train A Comin’” – for the first time on an official release, we have a studio version of this classic that can stand on its own alongside the definitive live version we’ve known via its appearances on the 1971 Rainbow Bridge album and the 1994 Blues collection that has earned its place among the best posthumous Hendrix albums.
Fascinating as Valleys of Neptune might be for the serious Hendrix fan, everyone else would do better to go back and rediscover the aforementioned Blues and First Rays of the New Rising Sun collections. After all, the guy’s been dead longer than most of you and your friends have been alive, so it hardly comes as a surprise that most of the primo recordings are already out there somewhere.