Valleys of Neptune
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2010, Volume 17, #4
Written by John Metzger
Mon April 26, 2010, 06:30 AM CDT
Jimi Hendrix was an artist whose mind was brimming with ideas. Constantly on the move, he assembled three magnificent studio albums (Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold as Love, and Electric Ladyland) before his career tragically was cut short in September 1970. Issued under the auspices of a new deal between Experience Hendrix and Legacy Recordings, Valleys of Neptune digs into the vast selection of archival material that Hendrix left behind. By unearthing 12 previously unreleased tracks, most of which were recorded during the first half of 1969, the outing makes a strong case that Hendrix merely was beginning to explore the possibilities that were erupting exponentially from his method of merging rock, soul, R&B, and jazz styles together.
Tired of butting heads with Hendrix during the recording of Electric Ladyland, producer Chas Chandler backed away from the project that he had helped to foster. Hendrix knew precisely what he wanted to accomplish with the endeavor. The subsequent success of Electric Ladyland — from artistic, commercial, and critical perspectives, no less — not only bolstered Hendrix’s confidence, but it also liberated him from the constraints of the process he had developed with Chandler. At the same time, the guitarist also was in the midst of phasing out the Jimi Hendrix Experience and assembling the pieces of the band that would take its place. Consequently, there is no way of denying the fact that Valleys of Neptune is a portrait of an artist who was in the midst of a major era of transition. Nevertheless, Hendrix’s brilliance as an artist, composer, guitarist, and bandleader is noticeable everywhere.
Right from the start, Hendrix had intertwined his rhythmic and melodic ideas. With Electric Ladyland, he had demonstrated an increased emphasis on improvisation. While crafting the material on Valleys of Neptune, he clearly was searching for ways of refining his approach while also broadening his sonic palette. The full-throttle, rumbling, funk-driven groove of Bleeding Heart and a revamped rendition of Stone Free are emblematic of the direction in which Hendrix was heading when he chose to replace bass player Noel Redding with his old friend Billy Cox. Neither track completely coalesces, a certain sign that Hendrix hadn’t yet found his new paradise. Regardless, there also is something futuristic about the way these songs foreshadowed the darkening corners of Sly Stone’s output, the jazz-fusion experiments of Miles Davis, and even the hard-edged grooves of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Considering that Hendrix never completed Valleys of Neptune, it isn’t surprising that the effort is a disjointed, fragmented set. Throughout the collection, Hendrix attempts to bring several standards from his repertoire (Stone Free, Fire) into alignment with his new vision. He also offers early glimpses at material that emerged in a more complete state on First Rays of the New Rising Sun, another posthumously issued outing. Hendrix had a constant desire to move forward, and even if he wasn’t sure how to proceed — or, for that matter, what pieces were missing — he kept trying until he got it right. Unfortunately, he passed away before he could completely whip his ideas into shape.
Therefore, the highlights of Valleys of Neptune are the tracks that essentially mirror the framework that Hendrix had perfected on Electric Ladyland. By falling into familiar patterns, he was able to maintain the intensity of his connection to the Jimi Hendrix Experience — and Redding in particular. During these moments, the group’s power and energy were unparalleled. Both Hear My Train A Comin’ and Red House are riveting blues workouts that showcase how magnificently Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell were able to provide a canvas for Hendrix’s mournful vocals as well as his violently anguished guitar solos. Even within the outfit’s casual romp through Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love, an alchemical, otherworldly reaction takes place that yields explosive results.
In the end, Valleys of Neptune might not be the holy grail that some fans are seeking. It also might not have enough moments of sheer perfection to hold the full interest of Hendrix’s casual followers. Even so, Valleys of Neptune is an insightful document, one that successfully erases years of archival mismanagement by polishing Hendrix’s longstanding legacy until it shines. ½
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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