Jimi Hendrix – Valleys Of Neptune

A new Jimi Hendrix album? Forty years after the fact, is there still enough material in the can to put together an album of new tracks? This album follows the template of a number of the previous posthumous releases with its combination of different takes of familiar material and songs with new titles that were either works in progress that morphed into songs of a different name or provided riffs that ended up elsewhere. This is not to say that these tracks don’t have value, this is after all Jimi Hendrix we’re talking about here.

Album opener Stone Free is a good indication of the album’s master plan. It’s a very well known song but this version puts the focus on one of Jimi’s skills that tends to get less press than others, his rhythm playing. This is helped by Eddie Kramer’s mix that puts the rhythm guitar part firmly in the left channel. Jimi’s playing is amazing here and gives the listener a three minute, forty-five second history lesson on his years of playing behind other musicians and putting the fear of god in them.

Next up is the title track Valleys Of Neptune, a song that has been around for years on various bootlegs and quasi-legal releases. My first contact with this song was in 1989 on a triple CD set of a radio show called Live & Unreleased The Radio Show. And even though this release was advertised in the local music press of the time, it still had the feel and sound of a bootleg. This new version is cleaned up but essentially the same.

Bleeding Heart is a cover of an Elmore James song where we get to hear the master at play, casually throwing off rhythm fills that most guitar players would kill for. Hear My Train A Comin’ is another blues burner and is an electric version of a song that many will be familiar with as the song that Jimi played on acoustic guitar at the end of A Film About Jimi Hendrix.

Next up is Mr. Bad Luck a song that eventually morphed into the song called Look Over Yonder. It’s a playful blues romp that really gets pushed along by the late great Mitch Mitchell on drums. It does however sound unfinished and falls apart at the end. The instrumental version of the Cream track Sunshine Of Your Love tells volumes about why Eric Clapton was so intimidated by Jimi. He recasts the song in his own incendiary way by diverging from the opening riff at every opportunity and even includes some Latin percussion that you can actually hear this time. While Lover Man is a chop and change, baby going to leave you blues with some ridiculous bends and slurred notes that unfortunately fades before the final solo.

Ships Passing Through The Night, a track that eventually became the song Night Bird Flying takes off at the end with a genuine solo where Jimi bends to the stars and gives you that last stanza of chaos with such a strange selection of notes. It provides one of the album's most illuminating moments. Fire features Noel Redding’s backing vocal nicely loud in the final mix and there is some frantic riffage included as well but this version adds little to the lexicon of the song.

As far as the song Red House goes, you can never have too many versions of this blues classic and this take does let Jimi stretch out a bit but then inexplicably fades without the wah-wah drenched final section that made the version first found on the album, Hendrix In The West from a 1969 San Diego live show so memorable. Lullaby For The Summer is an instrumental track that builds through a number of changes. Multi-tracked tempo changes and trippy panning stereo mix tricks bring back the headphone sounds of the sixties. It also features a great fade as twin Jimi guitars battle it out for supremacy. Striking solos in the right channel while the left track drips with funky rhythm picking. Crying Blue Rain is the last of the twelve and lets you pray at the altar of Jimi Hendrix as he testifies with bent note biffos and pop crackle plucked funk, then changes things up with some very interesting chord work.

What it all comes down to is that engineer Eddie Kramer is really the guardian of the flame. As the musical overseer of the Hendrix estate he makes these new releases either musically relevant or not and this release has a lot of great moments and helps to focus on Jimi’s fantastic rhythm playing. With Valleys of Neptune, Hendrix completists will be well satiated but new fans should still start with the holy trinity (Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold As Love and Electric Ladyland) and with new CD/DVD reasonable priced reissues of those titles now on the market, that’s the place to start.

Rob Hudson

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