Jimi Hendrix - Both Sides of the Sky (Sony, 2018)
As near as I can figure, there’s not going to be a shortage of new or unheard Hendrix music for the rest of my life, as at his recording studio, Electric Ladyland, there was a wall of closets, where everything Hendrix ever put to tape was cataloged and stored, with Hendrix at the time of his death, having the only key.
Without a doubt, his best posthumous material has already seen the light of day, thought the albums People, Hell and Angels along with Valleys of Neptune did inspire and offer up from the past some great listening. Both Sides of the Sky is a bit different … and just to sidetrack for a moment, who’s creating these Hendrix-esque album titles [?] … and does have some rather cheesy if not socially relevant moments. Consider the number “Lover Man” a Hendrix original, no two ways about it, though I doubt he would have seen fit released this song infused with the Batman television series theme song. Then there’s Jimi with his original mates laying down “Hear My Train A Comin,” which was rather prophetic, as Jimi died but a year later. Two of the best tracks are the 1968 song “Cherokee Mist,” and features Jimi showing what he could do with the sitar, and is rumored to have come about during a backstage meeting with Brian Jones (of the Rolling Stones) after a show in London. The other is “Mannish Boy,” penned by Muddy Waters, opens the album and sets the pace, though many might overlook its jazzier undertones, suggesting the turn Jimi would take with The Band of Gypsies. Then there’s “Stepping Stone,” a song he’d perform live but once, though is rather intense, and was recorded during the early part of 1970 with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles, originally entitled “Sky Blues Today,” with the best parts of the number having been more successfully used on the extended version of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”, and first played live on New Years Eve at the Fillmore East in 1969 … the song has been added to and reworked, even after its release in June of 1970, so what you get here is something in between or later, who knows for sure. And of course there’s “Woodstock,” where Hendrix plays the bass to Stephen Still’s lead guitar.
What I found to be of most interest was the assemblage, or cast of characters who show up, people Jimi had met or gotten to know at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, where he set the world on fire, including Johnny Winter, Stephen Stills and Lonnie Youngblood (a spirit from his past with Curtis Knight & The Squires).
All but two of the songs are alternate takes, things we already know, and have been presented much better, which has me scratching my head wondering what I walked away with after hearing this album, and I want to say, “Not a lot,” though in the same breath, and while I probably will never need to hear these numbers again, I’m glad that they rolled through my head.
So I shrugged and said that these songs were certainly not up to the Hendrix standards we’ve come to know and love, with Eddie Kramer saying, “Jimi was never satisfied, and sure, he would have undoubtably revisited these takes, but that doesn’t undersell the brilliance of this music.” Leaving me to suggest quietly to myself, that just because something is as brilliantly bright as the sun, doesn’t mean I wanna look at it. So if it’s your intentions of being that fly on the wall you always wanted to be, then perhaps Both Sides of the Sky is for you … me [?], I couldn’t wait to get home and put on a proper Jimi Hendrix album, from a time when Jimi Hendrix did let me hear what the other side of the sky sounded like.
*** I was given the opportunity of a reviewer’s listen to this album, no cellphones or recording devices were permitted into the room, though I was permitted to listen with my open-back Sennheiser HD 700 headphones, and sonically the music does sound very good, though I heard the compact disc version, and not the vinyl album.
- Jenell Kesler
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