Alrighty folks, it’s time to give you an in-depth review of the new Hendrix album. It’s been generating a lot of buzz and even reached the top of the Billboard charts. The only thing is, there’s been a whole bunch of BS being spread about the album. It’s time to lay down the facts, give it a hefty once over, and crank out the Hendrix jams for a big ol’ review.
Let’s first explain what this album really is. Experience Hendrix, the label that is in charge of the Hendrix estate, is run by a collection of very important people, including author John McDermott, engineer Eddie Kramer, and Janie Hendrix. Though she touts being an important family member, she was in fact a half-sister that only met Hendrix twice. Their mutual father, Al Hendrix, eventually gained control of the estate after many shady legal battles. Prior to his death in 2002, Janie speculatively coerced him into naming her as his sole heir, hence becoming the CEO and President of Experience Hendrix LLC.
Literally all of the posthumous albums, starting back in 1971, were released as a means of cashing in on the genius of the greatest guitarist of all time. Janie and Al Hendrix are only two of many greedy people trying to exploit what has become an almost infamous posthumous career. This is nothing short of ironic as Hendrix spent most of his life penniless. Even once Hendrix reached international fame, he carelessly spent money, never had a permanent address, and left a very meager estate when he died. For a man that focused solely on making music and not money, everyone cashing in on his music should be ashamed of themselves, simple as that. Zing!
People, Hell and Angels is just that. The Experience Hendrix label team dug through the vaults, found some unreleased material, labeled it as new, and saw the album immediately jump to the top of the charts. Most of the songs have seen the light of day in some form before, while others would never have been permitted on an album under Hendrix’s watch. Of course there are some gems, but this album, just like Valleys of Neptune, is not as advertised. It’s a bonus rarities disc billed as an undiscovered new album. They can fool some, but dammit they can’t fool me!
This really is a shame, because big Hendrix fans like myself clamor toward anything new. In fact, I used to love Experience Hendrix label until these falsely advertised latest two releases. I have every official album, bootleg, and studio session with Hendrix’s name on it. Even though I know this LP is nothing short of a cash-in moneymaker, the public has spoken. The single “Somewhere” jumped to the top of the charts because people still want to hear the greatest guitarist of all time. So let’s get down and dirty and go through these “12 Previously Unreleased” songs and separate fact from fiction.
1. “Earth Blues” – A great track set for First Rays of the New Rising Sun, his unreleased follow-up to Electric Ladyland. This version shows Hendrix destroying the axe per the norm, but is not as polished as the final version released on First Rays.
2. “Somewhere” – The first single off of the album rocketed up the charts, but it’s actually a small demo for a song that never made Electric Ladyland. Stephen Stills shows off some fancy bass work, but this certainly is nothing new. This demo appeared on The Jimi Hendrix Experience box set, and though it seems like a great track, Hendrix obviously kept it off of the final mix for Electric Ladyland because it didn’t fit his criteria of awesomeness.
3. “Hear My Train A Coming” – This is one of the better and most played tracks from later in Hendrix’s career, but how many times does this need to be released? This makes the 14th official release of this song that I own. Toss in some bootlegged versions, and I’ve got over 20. I’m no accountant, but using a calculator, I learned that’s a lot.
4. “Bleeding Heart” – The last Experience Hendrix release, Valleys of Neptune, had this track as its lead single. This cover of the Elmore James classic is definitely bitchin’, but it probably shouldn’t be re-released on every new Hendrix album.
5. “Let Me Love You” – The first actual new track is a collaboration with singer and saxophone player Lonnie Youngblood, one of Hendrix’s pals from his R&B sideman days. The most notable aspect of this track is hearing how Hendrix could never be a sideman again. During Youngblood’s sax and vocal work, Hendrix’s “background” guitar turns to the forefront, always stealing the show.
6. “Izabella” – Though this song has been released countless times, this version is actually unique because it features Larry Lee on rhythm guitar. His only real collaboration with Hendrix was during the Woodstock set, but along with the percussionists, was mostly absent from the final mix. This track is great because it’s a rare glimpse at Hendrix sharing with another guitarist. Sharing is caring after all.
7. “Easy Blues” – This was actually featured on the posthumous and now out of print Nine to the Universe album, but I sadly have never heard the track before. The instrumental studio jam is clearly the greatest gem on the album, as Hendrix takes a simple Blues jam to new heights. Hendrix is backed by a killer band, larger than the normal trio format, with Billy Cox on bass, Larry Lee on rhythm guitar, and Mitch Mitchell on drums.
8. “Crash Landing” – Never before released? There was an album called Crash Landing with this as the title track released back in ’75. Sure it was a highly controversial album, as the greedy producer Alan Douglas had session musicians filling in missing parts after Hendrix’s death. Yet engineer Eddie Kramer cut and paste sessions together to make this complete song too. Either way, there’s a reason Hendrix never let this song see the light of day, because it has terrible lyrics and a weak guitar line.
9. “Inside Out” – This isn’t a song, but a studio session as Hendrix began creating “Ezy Rider,” and is one of many released jam sessions that lead to the creation of the song. It’s a solid jam and fun to hear the great track come into fruition (didn’t even use a thesaurus there), but it certainly shouldn’t be labeled as “a brand new, never before heard song” or whatever they claim.
10. “Hey Gypsy Boy” – Another studio session, this was the beginning of the classic “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun).” Even though I consider that to be one of the best songs of Hendrix’s entire career, this take is far too early in the creative process, and is a throwaway compared to later versions. It’s also kind of cheating when you take an early version of one song and change the name and call it another song. Cheaters!
11. “Mojo Man” – Hendrix collaborated with The Ghetto Fighters, Albert and Arthur Allen, who were friends from Harlem that contributed vocals on Electric Ladyland. This really isn’t a Hendrix track at all, but he certainly makes his presence known with his fiery “background” guitar.
12. “Villanova Junction Blues” – One of the crowning achievements during the Woodstock performance, this song was created through many jams before the big show. Previous releases have much better studio jams of this song, and are much longer as well, considering this measly version clocks in under two minutes.
Now that we’ve broken this bad boy down, what does this mean overall? As outrageous as I find the money-grubbing evil-doers at Experience Hendrix, it’s hard to deny that People, Hell & Angels still is the work of a musical genius. I can’t help but think that everything he touched was gold, and there are some shining moments on the album. These tracks would have been great on box set or released through the subsidiary label, Dagger Records, which only releases official bootlegs of live albums and studio jam sessions. There were more actual new songs on the box set West Coast Seattle Boy, quietly released under the Experience Hendrix label in 2010, which was a remarkable and eye-opening look at Hendrix’s entire career. Why and how this album came about is beyond me, but it’s so far proven to be a successful moneymaker nonetheless.
Beyond the slick marketing, this album gives insight as to where Hendrix was headed before his untimely death. Given that these throwaway tracks are topping the charts and wowing listeners, one can only imagine how great Hendrix could have been.