Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell & Angels
If possible (and it probably is, I'm just not capable) there would be a blinking warning that reads, "The person writing this review adores the music of Jimi Hendrix... BEWARE! (or not)."
I am so much a fan that I, a generally free-wheelin' every day is different kind of guy, have a steadfast and singular daily ritual. At least once every day that I'm on this earth I listen to the music of Jimi Hendrix.
If I try to explain what his music does to me, emotionally, spiritually and physically, I'm always afraid I'll demystify it and end up in a much worse place in all three of those categories, so I continue to let it wash over me and never question its impact. The result of this stone free love, as you can probably guess, is that I purchase everything that is released, dug out of a bin, or found far in the outer recesses of the internet. I ordered People, Hell & Angels on the day it was announced. And like a 10-year-old I waited, and waited, and waited, and waited. Until, like a 10-year-old, I'd forgotten I'd ordered it.
Now just because I purchase "everything" do not mistake this as me loving "everything." I may know that Jimi is a genius nonpareil but that doesn't make me an undiscerning consumer. I mean many of the Dagger Records releases from Authentic Hendrix border on the unlistenable: low fidelity audience recordings which cannot be massaged into life by love or modern technology. For instance, the recently purchased Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live in Cologne is something I can't recommend but would still refuse to sell. It is important for Jimi-philes but extended listenings turn grating, irritating and tiring. And the download actually has more life and sounds better than the vinyl, which is always a bad warning sign.
Well finally there was a knock on my door and... People, Hell & Angels descended from my postal deliverer's into my grubby little hands. And I've got to tell you right up front, THIS, my friends, IS JUST WHAT I'VE BEEN WAITING FOR! Yes buy it... in every format... whatever format, I don't care and I won't be coy. If you dig Jimi Hendrix you'll love this. These recordings may have been one off's or "incomplete" or cut together but each of them is remarkable in its own right. Beautifully mixed by Eddie Kramer and meticulously mastered by Bernie Grundman they are the final Hendrix studio recordings. And they are glorious! And that they're seeing the light of day is a treasure for us all.
People, Hell & Angels opens with Band of Gypsys performing "Earth Blues" which you may have heard on Live At The Fillmore East, First Rays of the New Rising Sun, The Baggy's Rehearsal Tapes but you can hear the difference immediately. It's sparse, somewhat dry and in your face. It makes you feel as if you're sitting in the control room wearing headphones and staring through the glass as Jimi, Buddy and Billy lay it down right before your eyes. Jimi's voice sounds as warm as I've ever heard it, and the song is tight and, dare I say it, funky. After a single play of this first song I realized two things.
A. A) It's easy to see why Jimi wanted to play with his old friends
B. B) Every penny I spent on this release was worth it.
The Hendrix Estate and various people and entities have been exhuming the remains of his prodigious recording history, to varying degrees of success, since the day he died. I mean there's everything from the complete Fillmore East shows (which I thank them for every day) to Crash Landing (which should have resulted in someone being sent to the corn field) but they've really stepped up to the plate here and done good. Real good.
Even if everything on the record isn't essential it's at least interesting. I know I won't seek out "Inside Out" because I really need to hear it again but I will "Hey Gypsy Boy" (which is basically an early version of "Hey Baby.") It is slow and languid and evokes thoughts of 3:00AM sessions, cigarettes, wine and waiting for everyone to slow down enough to play something at the tempo you want. I might not put "Mojo Man" on eternal rotation or put the needle back to the start when it ends, but I like it enough to dance to it while I'm cooking dinner. And did we really need ANOTHER version of "Hear My Train a Comin'?" Yes. We did. There's a point about 2:10 into this version (once again featuring Buddy Miles and Billy Cox) where he plays a sour note and it feels so live and bluesy and so real that when he powers ahead with the solo you hope he plays that bad note again. My mind travels. My soul melts. And there's that feeling I get. Musical rapture.
And then, recorded on the same day, a version of Elmore James' "Bleeding Heart" which is the best version of the song I've heard by Jimi. It percolates. It slashes. It grinds. It is fine American electric blues. If Eric Clapton hears this there will be a Hendrix covers album in his future. He'll become Jimi again.
There are discoveries and many joys to be had on People, Hell & Angels. Whether the soul shout rave up of "Let Me Move You" or the peaceful bliss of the studio rendering of Woodstock's "Villanova Junction Blues" you will not be disappointed in this record.
And once again I'd be remiss if I didn't commend Eddie Kramer and Bernie Grundman for what they've done with this music. The vinyl sounds f'ing immaculate and the download, although it doesn't have the life of the vinyl sounds pretty damn good. I'm going to give it the car test this weekend. I'm certain it will rock the 405.
And this will be it boys and girls, the last resurrection of Hendrix studio recordings (according to Kramer). There are "future live releases planned" but it looks like they've taken the best of what was left and assembled it here. And yes that makes me sad, because I want to believe there're more pristine Jimi studio recordings somewhere. Another version of "Voodoo Chile" or a killer studio version of "Lord I Sing The Blues For You and Me" but it's not happening.
So beware, the end is nigh. It seems that soon Jimi will finally be able to rest. His studio journey is now complete and in the not too distant future his music catalog will finally become still. And this is a perfect and appropriate place for it to end... with People, Hell & Angels.
Kevin Poore is a writer, director and musician permanently rooted in Southern California. He hosts the long running music show "Nights At The Sound Table," is currently filming a documentary "Long Playing" and has actually been in the presence of, and reached out and touched, Jimi Hendrix's personal record collection. He was high for days. You can write him at email@example.com.