The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

JIMI HENDRIX

VALLEYS OF NEPTUNE

Released March 2010

 

 


Whilst the great and the good argue whether this release would ever have seen the light of day had Jimi lived to a ripe old age, I care only whether it is a worthwhile addition to the great man’s canon of work.

 

Considering Jimi only released three albums before his untimely passing, there is an abundance of sub-par product available: half finished studio recordings, self indulgent noodling and jams, and poorly recorded live shows litter the record shelves – so is “Valleys Of Neptune” any different?

 

The Hendrix Family Estate (overseen by half-sister Janie Hendrix nowadays) has drafted in Jimi’s former engineer, Eddie Kramer, to sit in the producer/mixer’s seat, and he has done a great job cleaning up what are essentially in some cases jams and outtakes. Sonically “Valleys Of Neptune” is far richer than you might have thought it could sound, for an album recorded 40 years ago – but then, Hendrix always was so far ahead of his time it was ridiculous.

 

A scan down the track list shows that Kramer has assembled a few “new” versions of classic Jimi tracks, some meandering blues workouts, and Jimi’s take on a couple of classics – including one of Hendrix’s favourite songs, Cream’s ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’, presented here as a blistering instrumental.

 

Overall it’s a hit and miss affair, though, but it’s important to remember that the weight of expectation and preconception on this release (or anything bearing Jimi’s name) is crushing.

 

Recorded in ’69 and ’70, in between dissolving the Experience and forming the Band Of Gypsies, the argument could be made that these are no more than jams and guide tracks, yet Hendrix being the genius he was, even his outtakes do have some (varying) level of critical worth.

 

The abiding feeling though, is of a genius who let the tapes roll while he and his band jammed, grasping onto swirls of magic that wafted around the studio, hoping that the tape could capture some of them for him to analyse and master and use later. The majority of material here – and indeed, on any of his posthumous releases – is only ever going to be “of interest” rather than essential, classic or ground-breaking.

 

The slowed down version of ‘Stone Free’ is slinky and fluid, yet doesn’t offer much for anyone but the completist. The title track really does sound like a guide track and ‘Hear My Train A-Comin’ is little more than a stoner’s blues jam.

 

‘Bleeding Heart’ fares much better: tasty soloing caps off the best version of this song that I’ve heard to date, and ‘Mr Bad Luck’ boasts the great sense of fun that permeates much of Hendrix’s best work with The Experience.

 

‘Lover Man’ is nothing special, while ‘Ships Passing Through The Night’ features some great soloing. ‘Fire’ is basically a live run-through in the studio, very similar to the original album version except for Noel Redding’s backing vocals being much higher in the mix. ‘Red House’ just drips blues and is one of the best tracks herein.

 

“Valleys Of Neptune” closes off with two instrumental guitar workouts – ‘Lullaby For The Summer’ and ‘Crying Blue Rain’. Neither will rewrite Jimi’s history or boast earth shakingly catchy melodies, though both are enjoyable enough – the latter being the stronger composition.

 

And these two songs summarise the release in general – there is enough good here to fuel the argument for the album’s release; enough average music to justify that it had stayed in the vault since Jimi would surely not have released it himself; and no bad music at all – which I think tips the scale in favour of the release.

 

In a world where shoddily recorded studio & live bootlegs are highly prized (and priced) by many thousands of obsessive collectors, I have to admit that if I had these masters in my vault, I would have released them and left it to the starving, blood crazed pack to pick over the bones and throw their opinions and verdicts around like offal. The good news is that Kramer has done the best job possible to polish even the most average of this material to a lustrous shine, and there will always be a market for rarities like this, even if it is only to an artist’s obsessive fans wanting to track the evolution of each song through various recordings (see The Beatles “Anthology” series).

 

So in summary - avoid if you’re wanting Hendrix’s Greatest Hits, but for the rest of us, “Valleys Of Neptune” will be as interesting as we choose to make it, but never essential for anyone but the avid collector.

 

Shane