My first thoughts when I heard that the record label/Hendrix Estate were releasing another posthumous album by Jimi Hendrixâ€¦ was â€śuhhg, please spare usâ€ť. Â But now that we have the album in hand and Iâ€™ve had a chance to listen to it for awhile, Iâ€™ve changed my opinion. Past dredging of the Hendrix vaults have given us material that was sonically a bunch of noise or song wise were best left unfinished. But Jimiâ€™s â€śLatestâ€ť â€śValleys of Neptuneâ€ť is actually quite good. Discovering unreleased alternate versions of songs that Jimi Hendrix cut during his brief 1967 to 1970 reign has been hit and miss affair over the years. Every so often nuggets turn up. But to find a complete, undiscovered song, well, that is a true â€śEurekaâ€ť moment.
Now there are four never-before-heard songs to unveil: â€śValleys of Neptune,â€ť the psychedelic title track. â€śShips Passing Through the Night,â€ť Â an ambitious precursor to the orchestral â€śNightbird Flyingâ€ť; and two April 1969 leftovers from the original Jimi Hendrix Experience, â€śLullaby for the Summerâ€ť and â€śCrying Blue Rain.â€ť
The disc also has a vicious full-band version of â€śHear My Train A Cominâ€™,â€ť which first appeared as a 12-string acoustic solo performance on the soundtrack to the 1973 documentaryÂ A Film About Jimi Hendrix. But thatâ€™s not the end of the surprises youâ€™ll find on â€śValleys of Neptuneâ€ť.
Ten of the albumâ€™s 12 tracks were cut in 1969, when Hendrix was at the height of his creative powers and typically spent the nights that he wasnâ€™t on the road hitting a nightclub and then heading into the studio until after daybreak. It only took the opening notes of the first track, plucked harmonics floating on the wobble of Hendrixâ€™s guitarâ€™s whammy bar, to dispel my cynicism about this exceptionally engineered posthumous CD. The sound quality and performances are both excellent.
The disc starts with a stripped down â€™69 version of â€śStone Freeâ€ť that radically departs from the hit single that Jimi originally cut in 1966, with a more driving, funky bottom end generated in part by the replacement of original Experience bassist Noel Redding with the R&B leaning Billy Cox. â€śValleys of Neptuneâ€ť comes next. A few tracks of the song appeared in a demo-like form onÂ Lifelines in 1990, but this is re-mastered and it makes a big difference
Then Hendrix revisits Elmore Jamesâ€™s â€śBleeding Heartâ€ť again, displaying his beautiful vibrato as he explores the songâ€™s theme of loneliness, with D.C.-area drummer Rocky Isaac replacing Mitch Mitchell. Itâ€™s followed by a staggeringly grungy, dirty take on â€śHear My Train A Cominâ€™ â€ť, complete with explosive bluesy fireworks. Hendrix vocally scats along with the notes his legendary flying fingers are producing, making this as a far different version than the electric performance on the 1994 collectionÂ Blues. The next track, â€śMr. Bad Luck,â€ť also appeared in part onÂ Lifelines and this version was obviously a work in progress to the version of â€śLook Over Yonderâ€ť we heard there. The vocal is rougher, the guitar less blazing, and the rhythm less commanding, but it is still fascinating listening to see how Hendrix would build upon previous sketches of songs.
Even before the Jimi Hendrix Experienceâ€™s debut album was finished Hendrix and his band were playing Creamâ€™s â€śSunshine of Your Loveâ€ť on stage. The song remained a regular in Hendrixâ€™s concert sets throughout his career, and theÂ Valleys of Neptune version is roaring unreleased studio instrumental performance that finds Hendrix riffing extending the song out to over six minutes. Next comes a slowed-down â€śLover Man,â€ť which has appeared on live and studio releases in its typical form, but this version is based on super-heated strumming and gutty, gritty blue notes colored by splashes of wah-wah and his signature slides and vibrato.
â€śShips Passing Through the Nightâ€ť has a musical theme suggested by Howlinâ€™ Wolfâ€™s â€śSmokestack Lightning.â€ť The studio version of â€śFireâ€ť that follows is fast and furious, like the on-stage renditions that have been captured on many live Hendrix recordings. But itâ€™s the 1969 version of one of my favorite Hendrix tracks, â€śRed Houseâ€ť that truly makes this album a keeper for me. It was cut at Londonâ€™s Olympic Studios and is a surprise for its sensitivity and restraint. It takes almost five minutes for him to really uncork a solo, and then itâ€™s a lesson in guitar gymnastics that reveals his debt to Albert King the influences of Eric Clapton at his fiery Cream era best.
The ultimate test of any new Hendrix album, live or studio, to me is whether it achieves a level of quality comparable to the four albums he released during his lifetime, and while itâ€™s not quite that quality through and through,Â Valleys of Neptune is easily one of the best posthumous Hendrix albums released. I would buy itâ€¦ if hadnâ€™t found this copy in the mail a couple weeks ago!!To hear the Eagleâ€™s Valleys of Neptune radio special on demand click here___http://www2.eagle969.com/listen_____________