Jimi Hendrix's Valleys Of Neptune CD Review - by J. Blake

Posted on 3/30/2010 by J. Blake

(New York, NY)

The way the media seems to be carrying on about the release of Jimi Hendrix’s VALLEYS OF NEPTUNE, one would think that this is the first time an album featuring never-before-released Hendrix material has made its way to store shelves. Since his death, the market has been flooded with bootlegs and official releases featuring “new” material from the late guitar-god and now 40 years later, the well still shows no signs of going dry.

VALLEYS OF NEPTUNE has a total running time of over 60 minutes and features 12 previously unreleased recordings (though iTunes and other editions offer 2 bonus tracks). Reportedly, the majority of the material was recorded between February and May of 1969 and documents the beginning of a major transition in the guitarist’s career; featuring recordings from his final sessions with the original Jimi Hendrix Experience as well as his first efforts with future Band of Gypsys bassist, Billy Cox.

Eddie Kramer, who was the sound engineer for all of Hendrix’s initial albums, has once again taken the helm; mixing and producing this latest release. Songs like “Valleys of Neptune”, “Mr. Bad Luck” and “Lullaby for the Summer” have all been previously featured on earlier CD sets, but until now have only been known to collectors in excerpt or primitive/demo form. Kramer’s recent mixes of these tracks make them sound better and more complete than ever before and his work on truly never-before-released tracks like “Ships Passing Through the Night” and “Crying Blue Rain” will undoubtedly be equally as thrilling to Hendrix enthusiasts; who have been chomping at the bit for the rarest of Jimi-gems.

Casual fans will be happy to find “new” versions of a few familiar classics. Studio versions of “Stone Free”, “Fire” and “Red House” are featured here, not as alternate takes from their original sessions, but as slightly different arrangements; in some cases more akin to the way they were performed on stage. Other songs like Elmore James’ “Bleeding Heart”, “Hear My Train Comin’” and Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love”, which were staples of Hendrix’s live shows, get the studio treatment here while staying true to the energetic and improvisational spirit that made them captivating when performed live.

Blues fans may not be as satisfied with VALLEYS OF NEPTUNE as they undoubtedly were with the 1994 MCA Records compilations JIMI HENDRIX: BLUES, but this new release still features plenty of material for them to salivate over. “Hear My Train Comin’” and “Red House” are pretty par for the course in terms of their arrangements, but feature enough brilliantly executed guitar-work to satisfy even the most skeptical of blues fans. “Lover Man” and “Crying Blue Rain” are taken slightly more into the Jimi-rock direction, but undeniably keep their foundations firmly planted in Hendrix’s blues roots.

Interestingly, the cover of Elmore James’ “Bleeding Heart” featured here, strays away from the slow 12-bar version that Hendrix typically performed live (as featured on JIMI HENDRIX: BLUES) and instead embodies a more high-energy R&B/funk vibe; in the vein of the version featured on 1997’s SOUTH SATURN DELTA and even the 6 minute 46 second instrumental version of “Sunshine of Your Love” manages to give a little nod the blues, by seamlessly incorporating the signature riff from Cream’s cover of Blind Joe Reynolds’ “Outside Woman Blues”.

As a whole, this new Hendrix release is perfectly enjoyable; with enough “new” and enough “familiar” to safely satisfy just about every fan, but one can’t help but question whether this is material that should actually be made available to every fan. Hendrix was notoriously known for being a perfectionist in the studio, frequently overdubbing his band-mates’ drum and bass parts himself at the eleventh hour; as well as his own. The majority of these recordings probably were never intended to be released to the public and the ones that were, clearly are not finished. The fact that almost all of these tracks either inexplicably fadeout before their time or feature an ending that is painfully tagged on, seems to be evidence of this.

Thankfully none of the tracks featured on this album appear to do a disservice to the man’s legacy, but perhaps it is only a matter of time before such posthumous compilations begin to do just that. Ultimately, is releasing this material something Hendrix would have wanted? The answer will never be known, but it is a question that the proprietors of his estate may want to consider more carefully in the future.

"Valleys of Neptune" Music Video:

*If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy: Psychedelic Blues Power

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