For hardcore Jimi Hendrix fans the impending March 9th release of Valleys Of Neptune is a major score, the first launch from the Sony/Legacy distribution of the Hendrix masters after they moved from their original home on Warner Brothers to MCA/Uni for many years (with some releases like Band Of Gypsys and the Curtis Knight material on Capitol and other titles finding temporary residence at Ryko Disc, now owned by Warner Brothers long after the fact). You truly need a scorecard, or at least a new edition of John McDermott and Eddie Kramer’s excellent HENDRIX: Setting The Record Straight (Warner Books) along with Steven Roby’s Black Gold (Billboard Books) to get through the maze of releases and recording dates.
You’ll find an eight minute and ten second “Hear My Train A Comin’ ” (recorded May 21, 1969) on the Villanova Junction 7 track disc unofficially officially released in 2004 on Alchemy Entertainment, and one can hear how dramatically different this rendition from the Valleys of Neptune disc is – tracked a month and a half earlier on April 7, 1969 at Record Plant Studios, New York City, New York. On it you can distinctly hear the “Ohio” riff that was so essential to Neil Young’s C.S.N.Y. Top 15 one-off hit from July of 1970.
Since the Kent State shootings happened on May 4, 1970, it is very possible that Young, said to have written “Ohio” after the Kent State incident, lifted the riff from Jimi. You can even sing “Tin Soliders & Nixon Coming” – the words to the song “Ohio” – over Hendrix’s “Hear My Train A Comin’ ” groove on the Valley’s Of Neptune disc, though it is not as pronounced on the Villanova Junction disc …Jimi morphing the guitar lines into a more fluid, quasi-live vamp. So for the aficionados who study at the College of Hendrix, this material is a magnificent find…and for those who just want some great “new” vibes from Jimi…the verdict is that Valleys of Neptune works on many levels.
Now that’s not to say it is a complete document of what Jimi would have put together in-between Electric Ladyland, the final studio album released with his blessing, and The Cry Of Love/Voodoo Soup/The First Rays Of The New Rising Sun, the superb posthumous release with instant classics like “Angel” (covered by Rod Stewart), “Driftin'” (with Buzzy Linhart’s tremendous vibes), and “Ezy Rider”, itself pretty much a nod to the film which included Hendrix’s “If 6 was 9” from 1967’s Axis: Bold as Love. So what the Hendrix fan has to decide (and what’s not to like about exploring his music while making a judgment on the authenticity of the release?) is if this music is obscure enough (read: not found in the bootleg canon) and if it satisfies.
Listening to the superb instrumental of “Sunshine of Your Love”, though in tempo flux still delicious, and the exquisite opening track, a lovely reading of “Stone Free” that comes straight out of the band Traffic’s repertoire…or wait a minute, Traffic’s “Rock And Roll Stew” appeared on the 1971 Low Spark Of The High Heeled Boys album…did Hendrix’s jazzy grooves infiltrate Jim Gordon and Rich Grech’s composition? More than likely …and perhaps Experience Hendrix’s John McDermott can shed some light on that since he wrote the liners to the Blind Faith deluxe double disc.
Phrasings of “Dolly Dagger” and “Ezy Rider” can be heard in some of the material, but the bottom line is if there’s enough territory here that has yet to be explored by the fans….and if the disc can hold up to all the “57 Varieties” the H.J. Heinz company used to boast…because after the Warner Brothers slew of releases – War Heroes, Rainbow Bridge, Hendrix In The West – Sound Track Recordings From The Film Jimi Hendrix, Alan Douglas mutations – 1975’s Crash Landing and Midnight Lightning discs, Loose Ends, 1980’s Nine To The Universe – and even the Experience Hendrix official releases like South Saturn Delta (which followed First Rays of the New Rising Sun in the same way that Warner Bros. released War Heroes and Rainbow Bridge right after The Cry Of Love) and Morning Symphony Ideas, well…Jimi’s recordings have been making the rounds in official, semi-official and unofficial fashion. And then there’s the titles released on Radioactive Records in Europe.
The double disc entitled Studio Outtakes 1966-1970 actually contains some of this Valleys Of Neptune release: Stepping Stone, Valleys of Neptune, Lover Man along with a variety of other songs. For those of us who have faithfully collected Jimi’s music over the past 45 years plus, well, it’s nice to have new mastering jobs, new mixes and the new promotion that comes with Sony/Legacy’s reissuing of the entire catalog. And the good people at Sony/Legacy have the highest of standards, so it is with great anticipation that we who follow all things Hendrix await the re-establishment of Jimi’s recorded works.
But here’s my two cents as a fan and as a Hendrix devotee: the best part of The Who’s appearance at the Superbowl 2010 (in fact, the only appearance by the real Who of Entwistle, Moon, Townshend and Daltrey) was the dance/re-mix of “My Generation”. Along with this version of “Valleys of Neptune”, which is growing on me but might not have staying power, a psychedelic re-mix would’ve been a nice idea for 2010…especially in light of Yoko Ono’s success with the dance hit version of “Walking On Thin Ice.” It’s a lost opportunity as a sweet remix of the title track in addition to all these delicacies would’ve been the frosting on the cake. Still, it’s wonderful to have a “new” Hendrix release, even for us oldtimers who have an idea of what is out there, and Valleys of Neptune succeeds as an important addition to Jimi Hendrix’s catalog of recorded music.