Both Sides Of The Sky
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Both Sides of the Sky
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Both Sides Of The Sky presents 13 studio recordings including 10 which have never before been released. All but two of these studio recordings were made during a fertile period between January 1968 and 1970. Jimi's mastery and use of the studio as a proving ground for new songs resulted in a growing collection of extraordinary material. This album completes a trilogy of albums [with Valleys Of Neptune and People, Hell & Angels] presenting the best and most significant unissued studio recordings remaining in the Hendrix archive. The songs include fascinating alternate versions of "Stepping Stone," "Lover Man" and "Hear My Train A Comin'" as well as recordings where Jimi is joined by special guests Johnny Winter and Stephen Stills. Both Sides Of The Sky was mixed by Eddie Kramer, the engineer for all of Hendrix's albums throughout the guitarist's lifetime, and produced by Janie Hendrix, Kramer and John McDermott.
Mannish Boy - The first ever studio session by the group Hendrix would christen as his Band Of Gypsys. Hendrix, Cox & Miles shared a love for the blues as this driving, uptempo reworking of "Mannish Boy" by Muddy Waters makes clear.
Lover Man - Just two weeks before their triumphant New Year's concerts at the Fillmore East in NYC [yielding both 1970's Band Of Gypsys and 2016's sequel Machine Gun], Hendrix gathered with Cox and Miles to cut this dynamic rendition of what had become a favorite concert staple.
Stepping Stone - A totally unique take on this Hendrix favorite, with Jimi showcasing both blues and country styled licks atop a relentless, galloping beat.
$20 Fine -Stephen Stills joined Jimi, Mitch Mitchell and Buddy Miles Express keyboardist Duane Hitchings at this September 1969 session. With Stephen handling lead vocals and organ, Jimi added multiple guitar parts to this rollicking Stills original.
Power Of Soul - This 1970 studio session came three weeks after the Band Of Gypsys concerts at the Fillmore East. While a live version remains one of the highpoints of Band Of Gypsys, Jimi never released a studio version during his lifetime. For this album, we present the mix that Hendrix and Kramer prepared of the complete song at Electric Lady on August 22, 1970.
Jungle - The influence of Curtis Mayfield can be heard here as Jimi expands on the "Villanova Junction Blues" theme he made famous by its inclusion in the 1970 Woodstock documentary.
Things I Used To Do - Jimi is joined for this rendition of Guitar Slim's blues classic by Johnny Winter. Jimi's trademark guitar work and Winter's deft slide playing weaves in and around the foundation set by bassist Billy Cox and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young drummer Dallas Taylor.
Georgia Blues - Jimi reunited with some old friends from his pre-Experience days. Lonnie Youngblood, with whom Hendrix played in R&B groups like Curtis Knight & The Squires, voiced this superb twelve bar blues neatly underpinned by Hendrix's sublime rhythm and lead guitar work.
Sweet Angel - With Axis: Bold As Love only just released, Jimi immediately turned his focus to recording what would become Electric Ladyland. This gorgeous, instrumental reading of "Angel,", features Jimi on guitar, bass and vibraphone joined by Mitch Mitchell.
Woodstock - Stephen Stills came to this session fresh from having visited Joni Mitchell, who had a new song that Stills was excited to try and record. Long before CSNY's version, Stephen, Jimi and Buddy Miles recorded this amazing rendition.
Send My Love To Linda - A superb new Hendrix original composition recorded with Cox and Miles in the aftermath of their successful Band Of Gypsys performances at the Fillmore East.
Cherokee Mist - Together with drummer Mitch Mitchell, Jimi created this moody, evocative original complete with his playing of a sitar to complement his traditional electric guitar.
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3: Three songs are not Hendrix songs at all, with no vocals by Jimi - $20 Fine, Georgia Blues, and Woodstock. This version of Georgia Blues has already been released and is a Lonnie Youngblood song. $20 Fine and Woodstock are Stephen Stills songs with Jimi only contributing bass guitar on Woodstock!
3: Three instrumentals with no vocals from Jimi - Jungle, Sweet Angel, and Cherokee Mist. Jungle was already released in a full 9 minute version, but here we get a 3 minute version.
That's right, we're at half of the songs on the album without Jimi singing a single note.
Of the remaining 7 songs?
3: The three singles - Lover Man, Hear My Train A Comin' and Mannish Boy have all been previously released in superior versions. Lover Man & Hear My Train' A Comin' were both released as even more complete studio versions on the album they released just a few years back, Valleys Of Neptune. Hear My Train A Comin' has appeared as a studio version on ALL 3 of latest studio albums they've released. Lover Man has appeared on 3 out of the 4 "studio albums," they've released. Mannish Boy appeared in a superior version on the Blues album they have not only released, but re-released and which is currently in print. Additionally, that version also contains parts of this version on Both Sides Of The Sky. The Mannish Boy version on Both Sides Of The Sky has a much more lifeless guide vocal. The Blues version has much more heart & soul in the performance as a whole, although Jimi fumbles a few words here and there.
2: Things I Used To Do & Send My Love To Linda - These songs have been chopped up, badly. Things I Used To Do was released in a complete version on the Lifelines boxed set. The Both Sides Of The Sky version chops the song nearly in half, deleting 2 minutes and 30 seconds of the performance. Send My Love To Linda is a composite that has Eddie Kramer combing a solo demo version of the song with numerous chopped up takes of a later instrumental performance, which to many is not very flattering. I'm not against combining takes to complete a song, but wish this one had been done a bit better - It is still listenable. Even better, why not release both in complete form, with the studio instrumental coming after the solo demo? Then we get both visions, as Jimi saw them in a "Send My Love To Linda Suite [Part 1 & Part 2]" type of arrangement.
2: Power Of Soul & Stepping Stone - Stepping Stone is an excellent alternate version of an already definitively released studio song, but has no place on a "new studio album." Power Of Soul is great to have, but this exact version was already released by Experience Hendrix just a couple of years ago. Experience Hendrix seems confused. On one hand they want to give us the complete version of Power Of Soul and Cherokee Mist, with Power Of Soul already being released - But on the other hand, they want to give us a chopped up and truncated version of Things I Used To Do, which has already been released in a complete version. It makes no sense.
This is not a "Brand New Jimi Hendrix Studio Album," as advertised by Experience Hendrix, it's an album of rehearsals, other people's songs, demo's, and sub-par and inferior versions of songs they've already released. This album is strictly for the Experience Hendrix completists, and not at all an accurate representation of a Jimi Hendrix Studio album at all. And for the completists, we have to deal with much of the material being chopped up.
For the casual listener, listening to this album may come as a shock when half the songs have no vocals by Jimi, with 3 of the songs having other people singing on them all together. With most of the remaining material either being songs that have been released and re-released so many times, or chopped up, not much is left to wow the casual Jimi listener. If you like digging into the deep boxed sets to listen to rougher cuts, jams, and songs Jimi appeared on as a side player, this might appeal to you.
If you're looking for a new Jimi Hendrix studio album, this is not what you're looking for. Grab "Are You Experienced?", "Axis: Bold As Love," "Electric Ladyland," "Band Of Gypsys" or even "First Rays Of The New Rising Sun." Based on how much chopping and editing they are now doing to the songs, I would also recommend the oft shunned "Blues" album over this Both Sides Of The Sky album, as it flows much better and has the superior version of Mannish Boy.
If you're unsure, stream it and make your mind up after having a listen for yourself.
My song-by-song review:
1) Mannish Boy - This song was formerly released on the Jimi Hendrix "Blues" album, with what seems to be part of this take being used in that version. The Both Sides Of The Sky take includes what is merely a guide/reference vocal by Jimi, and doesn't have the flare/fire you'd expect from Jimi in the vocal department. Being that this was the lead off single for this new album, I gave it about 40 listens before making any kind of judgement - I must say, it just doesn't have the flare that a real Jimi studio track would have. It sounds every bit the rehearsal track that it is, and it's really a shame they released this as a single to represent a "new studio album." The only thing that can be said about the song is that it is a "complete take." Vastly inferior to the Blues album version, which is actively pressed in a deluxe version by Experience Hendrix with a bonus DVD for about the same price as this album.
2) Lover Man - The third single released from the new album, which again, I repeated dozens of times. This song suffers from simply being a rehearsal track, rather than a studio track, as did the first single "Mannish Boy." As a result, we get a less then stellar guide vocal performance. Jimi's guitar work on this song shines, but we have two studio versions already released, in superior versions, including it being released just a couple of years ago on the last studio album Experience Hendrix released, Valleys of Neptune, and a full minute longer on that previous release. It was again released on the album South Saturn Delta in a version that is more than double as long, and that album was released 20 years ago and is still actively pressed at retail.
3) Hear My Train A Comin’ - The second single released off the new album and Jimi's guitar work sears (in places). As is the case with many of the versions of this song released by Experience Hendrix, this one wanders a bit in places, but that doesn't detract from the incredible guitar performance at all. Warts and all, every note plays well here. However, this is the most released song in Jimi's catalog. Experience Hendrix has released this song over a dozen times, including tons of "studio versions," and also including it three times in a row now - on all 3 of the last "studio albums," they've released!
4) Stepping Stone - Jimi mixed, approved, and released this song as the last single of his lifetime before his untimely passing. Here we get an alternate version of the song. A more realized studio version was released on the First Rays Of The New Rising Sun album that Experience Hendrix released. I can't pinpoint it, but something seems slightly off in parts of the song, like maybe the instrumental wasn't mixed properly with the vocals in a couple places.
5) $20 Fine - A Stephen Still song - that's right. A Stephen Stills song on a Jimi Hendrix "studio album." Don't ask me to explain that. Jimi plays guitar on the song, which lacks any real solo work from him and relegates him to mostly providing rhythm for the song. I like Stephen Stills, but this is not one of his better songs, or takes of songs rather. None of the musicians taking part in this song are really in their element, and finally hearing this jam confirms the statements by those involved that it was a party atmosphere with loose jams taking place.
6) Power Of Soul - Most confusingly, Experience Hendrix has released modern, re-mixed and clipped versions of this song numerous times over the years. They also released this exact version as a bonus track on a single from the last new "studio album." Glad to have this version of the song officially in digital quality.
7) Jungle - This is a phenomenal instrumental by Jimi. However, this is a MUCH shorter alternate version than we already had, which Experience Hendrix released 18 years ago on the Jimi Hendrix album Morning Symphony Ideas. And when I say "much shorter," I mean that in the truest sense, because the Both Sides Of The Sky version is merely a third of the version they already released, coming in at 5 minutes and 30 seconds shorter.
8) Things I Used to Do - This song was released on the boxed set Lifelines in the complete version. This version has been chopped nearly in half, missing almost 3 minutes of the version previously released. It's an excellent song featuring Johnny Winter, but it's disappointing to release it in such a truncated version, which was unnecessary. Especially considering they chose to include the full, unedited version of Power Of Soul.
9) Georgia Blues - This exact song was released 15 years ago on the Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues Jimi Hendrix album. This is also not a Jimi Hendrix song, but a Lonnie Youngblood song, who sings vocals on the song. A great song with some great play between Jimi on guitar and Youngblood on sax, but a Lonnie Youngblood song that's already been released on a new Jimi Hendrix studio album?
10) Sweet Angel - An alternate instrumental version of Jimi's excellent song, which has been released on numerous albums still in print. A great take, but merely an alternate instrumental.
11) Woodstock - Another Stephen Stills song, written by Joni Mitchell. Jimi doesn't sing, or play any guitar on this song. He plays bass guitar. Again, can't explain this showing up on a Jimi Hendrix "studio album."
12) Send My Love To Linda - This is one of the songs I was looking forward to the most as Jimi wrote it's name on the hand written tracklists he left behind for the album he was working on. It is a composite of a solo Jimi demo and several different instrumental band takes of the song, with the song starting with Jimi's solo demo version and then transitioning into the full-band instrumental version to create a complete take of the song. Definitely listenable, but the edits are identifiable. Additionally, while Experience Hendrix has admitted that this song is a composite, they have chosen to only list the recording dates of one of the sessions, essentially trying to scrub the fact that it is actually a composite from the production credits.
13) Cherokee Mist - An alternate version of this instrumental was released on the still pressed The Jimi Hendrix Experience boxed set 18 years ago. However, this is a different and unique version, which sounds amazing, as does the boxed set version.
This album does not at all hold up to the Experience Hendrix promise and marketing of a "Brand New Jimi Hendrix Studio Album," which they have advertised it as, overzelously - even plastering it right on the front of the CD on a big, official, Experience Hendrix sticker (photos attached). It is not a cohesive album. There is some great music on this album, but as an "album of 13 new studio recordings," or the "last in a trilogy" of albums of "unreleased studio material?" Absolutely not. Just as the previous two albums in this "trilogy," suffered from overzealous, inaccurate, and just down right dishonest marketing - so does this album. In fact, it's the worst offender by far. Experience Hendrix cannot will this mish-mash of other people's songs, demo's, songs already released, and chopped up songs with flashy marketing, into some phenomenal "Brand New Jimi Hendrix Album." This disc would find a perfect home as a disc in a boxed set of rarities, or as a release on Dagger Records, the very label Experience Hendrix setup for releases just like this, and even further, which some of these songs were already released on! Experience Hendrix wants to release, re-release, remix and re-release again, re-re-re-release, put out 33 versions of songs on albums of "new studio recordings." Not fair to the established fans, and certainly not fair to those just discovering Jimi for the first time. Should a person be introduced to Jimi's music through this album that has no vocals from him on half the songs? Absolutely not, but with it being advertised as an album of new Jimi Hendrix studio material, no one knows this isn't what Experience Hendrix is advertising it to be.
I haven't even addressed the fact that the cover-art of Jimi looks more like Andre Benjamin, who played him in an unauthorized biography, and not Jimi Hendrix. The original photographer of the image used for the cover did a digitized art piece for the album, which Experience Hendrix then gave to another artist to change further, who clearly (and mistakenly) used a photo of Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000 from the group Outkast) as the reference image for his final edits. This mistake stems from Andrew Benjamin playing Jimi in a recent biopic. Finding the original image and the photographers original edits aren't too difficult online and will shock you.
If you're a completist, you'll probably buy this album as I have, but many of the songs have been chopped up. However, as a completist, you likely have access to most of those songs already anyway.
I find myself listening to these songs on the album, while mostly skipping the rest:
Hear My Train A Comin'
I'm also listening to Georgia Blues, but have been listening to this song in this exact same version on the Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues album for years.
My rating is based on the unacceptable presentation of this as a "Brand New Jimi Hendrix Studio Album." If properly placed in a rarities box set or released on the very Dagger sub-label that Experience Hendrix setup for releases like this, my rating would be much higher.
It is not fair to present this material as an album of "new studio recordings," to a potential new Jimi Hendrix fan. I will buy the release as I always do, to support Experience Hendrix in their release of new Jimi material, but I will also review the release accurately to let the uninitiated know what it is that they are getting for their dollar.
As always, stream the album and make up your mind on a buy or not, as we all have a different ear for music and unique listening preferences. You are also free to listen to the other repeated versions of these songs I mention in my review to make your own determinations on the validity of their inclusion.
But this latest trawl through the vaults has nothing truly new and innovative. But there are a few things that are worth hearing for Hendrix fans who already own the previous two albums that also mop up various tracks from the archive. Obviously this isn't the place to start for the best Hendrix music, but is something to add to your shelf alongside the other sets of similar recordings. Interesting with a few things that stand out a bit--but nothing really exciting as the best Hendrix music can be.
The packaging is the usual cardboard wallet-style, with a pocket for the 22 page booklet and a tray the disc snaps into. The booklet has an essay on the music and a few photos (including one with Hendrix and Johnny Winter on stage) plus recording details for each track. And to my ears the sound is a bit variable in quality if that matters to anyone, because these are tracks dredged up from the vault.