Listening to ‘Valleys of Neptune’ by Jimi Hendrix….

There’s a new Jimi Hendrix album out, called ‘Valleys of Neptune’.  Mmmm, yeah I know he’s been dead for 40 years, but this stuff is new……sorta,  kinda…

This is the trouble with the whole posthumous Hendrix thing  isn’t it?   Early on, it was the lawyers who got their hands on the master tapes and any pretensions to ‘quality control’ went out the window.   We all got  so used to being ripped off for years with outtakes of outtakes and bad live recordings.  There was a period in the 70’s when you could have released an LP of Jimi playing ‘Be-bop-a-lula’ on a broken out-of-tune ukelele in a phone box during a hurricane and it would have sold tens of thousands.  And that’s the so-called ‘official’ releases.  Don’t get me started on the bootlegs….

The Hendrix Estate is now being run by his stepsister and she seems intent on restoring some of the lustre to the Hendrix name.  She reckons she has enough stuff for ten years-worth of releases (of what, heaven only knows..) and ‘Valleys of Neptune’ is the first venture.  And, hey, guess what?  It’s more good than bad, which is a start and the recordings here (most with the original Experience shortly before they broke up in 1969, a few with Billy Cox replacing Noel Redding on bass) are new in that they haven’t seen an official release before.

However, there is much that is familiar – re-recorded versions of ‘Stone Free’, ‘Red House’  and ‘Fire’, a thoroughly forgettable instrumental version of Cream’s ‘Sunshine of your Love’ and studio versions of songs previously heard live (‘Bleeding Heart’) or in a different context (‘Hear my train a coming’).

So what is actually new?  To itemise the tracks: there’s the title track, naturally, a bluesy song called ‘Crying Blue Rain’; largely instrumental but with a wordless vocal, two other good instrumentals called ‘Ships passing through the night and the very un-lullabyish ‘Lullaby for the Summer’, a song called ‘Mr Bad Luck’ which would evolve into ‘Look over yonder’ by the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ soundtrack album…and that’s  pretty much it. 

The question is, would this stuff have seen the light of day if Jimi were still around?  Probably not.  In which case, is it worth bothering with at all?  That would depend on your standpoint as regards the man’s work.  If he could do no wrong for you, then you should get this.  If’, like me, you were a fan but not an uncritical one, then I would say don’t bother.  The re-recorded ‘Stone Free’ & ‘Red House’ are rather different and better-recorded than the original versions, but the genuine new stuff is interesting the first few times and then, after a while,  it just makes you want to go back to ‘Voodoo Chile’ or ‘Spanish Castle Magic’.

There is a sense that for Jimi, as for the back-from-the-brink  Peter Green, too much water has passed under the bridge.  This stuff sounds nothing like as ground-breaking as it probably would have done 40 years ago, but then again what would? (Answers on a postcard…… maybe Nick Drake?  Miles Davis?)  In a sense, I knew that it was over for Jimi the first time I saw Stevie Ray Vaughan perform a mind-bogglingly accurate facsimile of ‘Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)’  Since then, there have been numerous other Jimi clones, several of whom are going on the road to promote this album with Billy Cox.  That says it all, really.  There was a time when what Jimi Hendrix did really shook the world to its core.  Now, 40 years later, he’s at the centre of a cult dedicated to the preservation of his memory and a lot of those people will no doubt purchase this CD.

So, be under no illusions; if you buy ‘Valleys of Neptune’, you’ll be getting  about an hour’s worth of re-recordings and one or two decent instrumental jams, but nothing really substantially new or newly substantial except the title track.   Which is OK, but hardly vintage stuff – we’re not talking ‘House burning down’ or ‘Ezy Rider’ here, I’m afraid.  It’s not a total rip-off, but it’s not another ‘Electric Ladyland’ either…..

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