My first thoughts when I heard that the record label/Hendrix Estate were releasing another posthumous album by Jimi Hendrix… was “uhhg, please spare us”. But now that we have the album in hand and I’ve had a chance to listen to it for awhile, I’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 Jimi’s “Latest” “Valleys of Neptune” 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 “Eureka” moment.
Now there are four never-before-heard songs to unveil: “Valleys of Neptune,” the psychedelic title track. “Ships Passing Through the Night,” an ambitious precursor to the orchestral “Nightbird Flying”; and two April 1969 leftovers from the original Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Lullaby for the Summer” and “Crying Blue Rain.”
The disc also has a vicious full-band version of “Hear My Train A Comin’,” which first appeared as a 12-string acoustic solo performance on the soundtrack to the 1973 documentary A Film About Jimi Hendrix. But that’s not the end of the surprises you’ll find on “Valleys of Neptune”.
Ten of the album’s 12 tracks were cut in 1969, when Hendrix was at the height of his creative powers and typically spent the nights that he wasn’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 Hendrix’s guitar’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 ’69 version of “Stone Free” 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. “Valleys of Neptune” comes next. A few tracks of the song appeared in a demo-like form on Lifelines in 1990, but this is re-mastered and it makes a big difference
Then Hendrix revisits Elmore James’s “Bleeding Heart” again, displaying his beautiful vibrato as he explores the song’s theme of loneliness, with D.C.-area drummer Rocky Isaac replacing Mitch Mitchell. It’s followed by a staggeringly grungy, dirty take on “Hear My Train A Comin’ ”, 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 collection Blues. The next track, “Mr. Bad Luck,” also appeared in part on Lifelines and this version was obviously a work in progress to the version of “Look Over Yonder” 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 Experience’s debut album was finished Hendrix and his band were playing Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” on stage. The song remained a regular in Hendrix’s concert sets throughout his career, and the 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 “Lover Man,” 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.
“Ships Passing Through the Night” has a musical theme suggested by Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning.” The studio version of “Fire” that follows is fast and furious, like the on-stage renditions that have been captured on many live Hendrix recordings. But it’s the 1969 version of one of my favorite Hendrix tracks, “Red House” that truly makes this album a keeper for me. It was cut at London’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 it’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 it’s not quite that quality through and through, Valleys of Neptune is easily one of the best posthumous Hendrix albums released. I would buy it… if hadn’t found this copy in the mail a couple weeks ago!!To hear the Eagle’s Valleys of Neptune radio special on demand click here___http://www2.eagle969.com/listen_____________