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Jimi Hendrix – [Album]

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Sunday, 15 May 2011

As good as some stories might be, one must ask if they're really so good that even the post-scripts need to be recounted. That question deserves asking as one listens to the reissue of South Saturn Delta; originally released in 1997, SSD was the first compilation released by the Hendrix family after they put out First Rays Of The New Rising Sun (the album left unfinished by Jimi Hendrix at the time of his death in 1970). Fans found satisfaction in the release of First Rays… because it seemed believably closer to the guitarist's perceived intentions and resolved the complaints lodged against Voodoo Soup (which sort of tried to sew up the same story but fell short) but, when South Saturn Delta came along just months later, even dogged fans began to wonder what and whom Experience Hendrix was serving.

At least some of the misgiving endures as one listens to the now-reissued edition of South Saturn Delta. Comprised of demos, alternate takes and a few previously released cuts, this album still feels like the stuff which was left over from other endeavors, swept up and and put out just because it could be.

That isn't to say some of what the album has to offer isn't interesting – the version of “Little Wing” included here bears little resemblance to the version most fans know, which illustrates how much the guitarist's songs were given to evolving, while “Midnight” has a fantastic riff and bass line and the title track provides both a killer saxophone part and a new way of looking at Hendrix – just that those moments of reward are scant. Too often, South Saturn Delta just feels willfully indulgent because, by turns, either the songs sound half-finished or the final product sounds rushed to meet a deadline. For example, the version of “All Along The Watchtower” sounds flat and poorly mastered (either Hendrix' vocal is too far forward in the mix, or everything else is too far back) and it sounds like only about half of “Sweet Angel” is actually there; it's as if the first half of the source tape was mangled, so the producer responsible for SSD just left it out. To add insult to injury, the click track left in that song sounds repugnant, and the take of “Tax Free” is perfectly forgettable. While some listeners might be able to turn a blind eye to the obvious problems from which South Saturn Delta suffers, most will simply scoff and give up on the record because it's just too flimsy to really be taken seriously; the rough or poor tracks almost outnumber the good one by a margin of two to one.

As one listens to this reissue, it's easy to realize that not much has changed in the intervening fourteen years. The problems from which the original release of the album suffered still dog it and, because of that, makes the album stands as proof by negative example of how phenomenal a job was done for the reissues of Hendrix' other albums released last year. That said, one has to wonder why Legacy would choose to revisit the album, and the only logical answer is also the most cynical: there's a market for everything, and there might just be a few ears interested.

Artist:

www.jimihendrix.com/

Further Reading:

Ground Control's Jimi Hendrix discography review

Album:

The reissue of South Saturn Delta is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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Jimi Hendrix – [Album]

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Sunday, 02 November 2008

The terms “classic” and “timeless,” as defined by Webster’s dictionary, are “A creation of the highest excellence” and “unaffected by time” respectively and, particularly in the context of pop music in general and the work of Jimi Hendrix in specific, get thrown around an awful lot. Because of that fact, both terms have been devalued (because they’re so over used – not necessarily because they’re used in the case of Hendrix’ catalog) so much that their meaning should come into question – particularly in the case of a musician whose catalog has been so critically lauded as Hendrix’ has. With the deluge of posthumous releases, it’s difficult to remember that, in his lifetime as a performer, Jimi Hendrix’ total output was just six full-length releases – three studio albums, two live documents, one Smash Hits comp – and eleven singles beginning in 1965 and ending right before his death in 1970. Since then, there have been no less than eight  posthumous studio recordings, sixteen posthumous live albums, ten singles  and an untold multitude of bootlegs (some of which were sanctioned by the guitarist’s estate) and a jaw-dropping twenty-nine compilations; to say nothing of reissues. Jimi Hendrix remains big business even thirty-eight years after his death and, while his value to rock history can’t be disputed, was everything in his output really timeless? Had the guitarist released those original six albums last Tuesday, would they still have the bite and leave the same impression?

Even when judged by today’s standard, Band Of Gypsys is still a pretty incredible document. Having ditched the Experience and the monstrous rock spectrum that went with it, Hendrix was left free to go as far outside the box as he wanted and develop in any way he chose. His first appearance with this new sound (committed to tape – he’d actually formed and disbanded  another group between the Experience and Band Of Gypsys called Gypsy Sun And Rainbows) happened at a four-show stand at The Fillmore East in New York over the New Year 1969/1970 and, without attempting  to deliver the same message again,  Band Of Gypsys did indeed set the stage on fire.

With a liberated swing in the band’s step, Hendirx, bassist Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles honestly sound like they’re having fun (a rarity on Hendrix recordings of any kind) as they tear through “Changes,” “Power To Love” and “We Gotta Live Together” and the air is loose and light as the guitarist hands the mic to Miles regularly to let his fire out too. Unlike the definitively rockist stomp of the Experience, it’s clear in listening to Band Of Gypsys that the focus is on vibe and establishing an intimate mood than there ever was in the often monolithic sets that the Experience was known for. From the opening groove of “Who Knows,” converses regularly with the audience about everything from the war in Vietnam to the songs themselves. Those songs have a much more open feel too as the arrangements afford everyone – not just the guitarist – the opportunity to develop some inspired improvisations.

Throughout the set, Hendrix keeps the tunes loose  which gives them a certain swagger that bolsters the Band Of Gypsys’ inclusions of Motown and R&B touchings (the best examples are in “Who Knows” and “Message To Love”) that somehow makes the presentation here more personal; it’s as if, after the Experience’s bombast, Hendrix wanted a forum through which he could let his hair down and better relate to his audience.

The overwhelming feel here is one of warmth and pleasure while, on previous records, there seemed to be a conscious effort in place to make jaws drop. That approach does get some air here though, when Band Of Gypsys breaks into “Machine Gun” – the centerpiece of the record. Given that it’s the only serious and politically-minded song in the run-time, one might expect “Machine Gun” to stick  out like a sore thumb but, in point of fact, it sets itself up here as the quintessential Hendrix tune; with a growling, snarling guitar line as well as a positively rotund and rolling bass curve, “Machine Gun” mimics bombs falling, fully automatic weapon fire and, toward the end, napalm scorching earth with a grinding tremolo. There is no finished lyric sheet for “Machine Gun” (the words changed regularly), thus giving the impression that the song is still a work in progress and thus leaving the song compellingly open-ended; perhaps to have reached completion at the cessation of the war had the guitarist lives to see it.

Is this the sort of thing that people were saying at the time of Band Of Gypsys’ release in 1970? Perhaps, but listening to the reissued version now successfully brings all of those visions vividly to mind the moment the record begins to play now as brightly and vividly as it did that night at the Fillmore East almost forty years ago. The reissue does leave a couple of the bumps and imperfections intact here (in “Message To Love,” for example, you can hear the glitch that was either the tape running out at the time of recording or the result of producers knitting two different takes from the four sets that Band Of Gypsys played) as well as retaining the warmth of a vinyl recording with the clarity of a pristine, unplayed copy of the same medium.

As the original release did, the reissue of Band Of Gypsys only includes six tracks of a combined set that boasted thirty-nine songs. Obviously they were recorded, and hopefully at some point the show will see the light of day in its entirety. While that would be spectacular, it would be against the spirit of questioning the classicism of the original document. Listening to it now as was the case then, Band Of Gypsys does indeed coax all of the same feelings with  this reissue as it did with the original and, in that way, establishes itself as a timeless, classic document.


Artist:

Jimi Hendrix official site

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