Album Review: Jimi Hendrix – “Valleys of Neptune”
Jimi Hendrix’s career was an incandescent flash of light that was snuffed out too soon. His life as a guitar god, from the release of his first album in 1967 to his fourth in 1970, lasted a mere four years before his death at the age of 27.
And yet there have been nine studio albums of Hendrix material posthumously released. In an era where musicians can take upwards of four or five years to release a single album, Hendrix was churning out one a year, with enough unreleased material still in the vault to warrant another release in 2010 – forty years after his death. That is astounding to me, and it really highlights the intense work ethic that drove him throughout his life in music.
Valleys of Neptune is billed as a “brand-new, completely unreleased studio album,” which may be technically true, but in reality, versions of many of these songs have appeared elsewhere, though usually of lesser quality and not easily accessible. To most listeners, these tracks will indeed be new. Valleys was assembled by Experience Hendrix, the estate led by Jimi’s stepsister Janie, and the company deserves credit for not toying with the archived material, but rather presenting it more-or-less how it sounded when it was recorded several decades ago.
Valleys can be considered a kind of follow-up to 1968′s Electric Ladyland. Most of the songs on this album were recorded in early 1969, when Hendrix was experiencing a lot of turmoil with his bandmates. The rhythm section changes from song to song, but really, it’s Jimi we’re all here to see (or hear as it may be).
Unsurprisingly, it’s the songs we are most familiar with that come off as the weakest of this bunch, precisely since we’ve already heard their superior versions. I’m talking about songs like “Stone Free” and “Fire.” Perhaps most disappointing, though, is Hendrix’s rendition of Cream’s mega-hit “Sunshine Of Your Love.” He turns it into a seven minute guitar instrumental which stalls out before it ever really gets going. “Red House” is one exception. That’s a pretty well-known Hendrix song, and the version here doesn’t disappoint.
Lesser known cuts like the title track and “Hear My Train A Comin’” are the true pleasures of this disc. The latter of those songs ramps up just like a distant locomotive approaching the station before busting out on arrival.
The beauty of Valleys is that it lets us hear a lot of deep cuts as they sounded at the time of their inception and in better quality than most people have heard. Would the songs have changed much if Jimi had lived to see them get a proper release? No one can know for sure. But it is an intriguing look at the direction his music may have been heading before he died.
There are no standout songs here in the vein of “Foxy Lady” or “All Along the Watchtower,” but Jimi’s coolly transcendent guitar playing is and that’s a pleasure all its own.
Note: Target is selling an exclusive version of this album which includes two bonus tracks – “Slow Version” and “Trash Man”