Saturday, March 23

Jimi’s déjà ‘voodoo’ experience


Jimi’s déjà ‘voodoo’ experience

Jimi Hendrix left behind hours of material intended for his
fourth album. These songs were spread over numerous ‘quickie’
albums. Now, nearly 25 years after Hendrix’s death, MCA releases
Voodoo Soup, the definitive last album.

By Michael Tatum

Daily Bruin Senior Staff

After Elvis Presley died, a reporter once asked Colonel Tom
Parker, the King’s manager, what he planned to do now that his main
source of income was dead.

According to rock legend, Parker didn’t miss a beat: "Well, I’ll
just keep on managing him!"

One could say the same thing about Jimi Hendrix and Alan
Douglas, the executor of Hendrix’s musical estate.

Since Hendrix’s death, Douglas has released and repackaged,
reconfigured and remastered various Hendrix recordings, both live
and studio.

What in theory could have been an embarrassment of riches,
however, soon turned out to be an embarrassing excess. The nadir
came with the ’70s anthology The Essential Jimi Hendrix, which
comprised a grand total of three records ­ one less than
Hendrix put out in his lifetime. When people joke that Hendrix is
the only artist, living or dead, to issue three albums a year,
they’re not kidding.

For MCA, who have already released the definitive CD versions of
Hendrix’s three studio albums, unreleased blues recordings and
Woodstock engagement, this won’t do. While Warner/Reprise spent the
’70s scraping the bottom of the barrel for any Hendrix recording,
no matter how ephemeral, they could get their hands on, MCA has
designed, so far, reissues unprecedented in their lavish artwork,
well-researched liner notes, attention to consistency and
remastered audio.

Particularly considering the shoddiness of the The Beatles and
The Rolling Stones’ CD products (with The Who’s canon forthcoming),
it is simply the finest and most thorough clean-up job ever given a
deserving ’60s artist.

MCA’s latest endeavor could very well be their most ambitious to
date. Voodoo Soup respectfully compiles the best songs from the
tapes of Hendrix’s unfinished fourth album, which had been
tentatively titled First Ray Of The New Rising Sun.

Needless to say, only one of these songs hasn’t been released
previously. Douglas got plenty of mileage from these tapes over the
course of the ’70s, stretching them out over the course of several
great-to- mediocre albums: The Cry Of Love, Rainbow Bridge, War
Heroes, Crash Landing and others.

But bless Douglas’ little cotton socks, because not only did he
and his colleagues work their proverbial asses off on this project,
but Douglas, who had the final say on the track selection, exhibits
a rare restraint. Voodoo Soup is more than just another slapdash
Hendrix exploitation ­ it’s Hendrix’s best album since, well,
Electric Ladyland.

Douglas culled most of the tracks from Hendrix’s first
posthumous outtakes compilation The Cry Of Love, which, like its
Reprise counterparts, is out-of-print domestically (incidentally,
for purists who pine for the originals, they can all be found in
good record stores as U.K. imports on the Polydor label).

That album included some of Hendrix’s warmest, most
straightforward songs: the solo blues "Belly Button Window" (in
which he plays a fetus), "Angel" and "Night Bird Flying" (two
beautiful ballads that stand alongside "The Wind Cries Mary") and
the galvanic "Freedom."

The Cry Of Love, however, left Hendrix’s instrumental side
untouched, which wasn’t what the man himself had in mind for First
Ray Of The New Rising Sun, something that Douglas kept in mind this
time around.

But before you say filler, it should go without saying that no
one ­ no one ­ does a rock instrumental like Jimi
Hendrix. Twenty-five years on, he’s probably the only rock
guitarist of his era to still evoke slack-jawed expressions of how
the hell did he do that? every time he assays a solo.

Two stunning showcases of molten metal, "Midnight" and "Peace In
Mississippi," cut nearly anything else the man ever put on wax,
while "New Rising Sun," which opens the album with its lovely,
cascading lines, is a siren as seductive as the opening bars of
"May This Be Love," from Are You Experienced?

If this record has any faults ­ and this is nit-picking
­ it’s that it’s not long enough. It’s lamentable that Douglas
couldn’t find space for the barroom goof "My Friend," the
hard-riffing "Astro Man" or even Hendrix’s studio version of "The
Star Spangled Banner." Clocking in at around an hour, the CD could
have squeezed these tracks and maybe a few others. Still,
considering that this could have been a waste of a box set, perhaps
this is just as well.

And once and for all, will somebody give the pink slip to
Michael Henderson? As usual, his liner notes are a shameful
embarrassment, particularly every time he veers from straight
interviews and historical background into his own personal
commentary, which makes it sound like Hendrix came down from Mars
to save us all with the love vibes of his guitar (sample insight:
"At the moment of Jimi’s birth, the moon and Jupiter stood aligned
in conjunction. A Sage had arrived."). Hey man, is this Jimi
Hendrix or, like, Ziggy Stardust?

Of less sacrilege are the drum overdubs of former Knack drummer
(and associate producer) Bruce Gary on two tracks, which have been
a controversy among Hendrix-ophiles for months. The protests seemed
to stem from the fear that Gary would erase Mitch Mitchell and
Buddy Miles’ stickwork and sneak in the pattern from "My
Sharona."

Apparently, Gary either carefully mimicked the original drum
parts, or fleshed them out where he felt it was appropriate. In a
few of these cases, the "original" drum parts were dubbed after
Hendrix’s death anyway, so who’s to say how the boss would really
have wanted it? In any case, Gary’s drum work fits right into the
mix – to get the right sound he even taped his parts using
antiquated, analog recording equipment.

With this benchmark project, one would hope that MCA’s Hendrix
reissue program has come to a close. It’s inevitable that someone
will get greedy and spill out a whole slew of superfluous
compilations and live recordings, but as it stands, Douglas and his
team have taken the art of CD reissues to a previously unreached
plateau. Let’s hope MCA does an equally superb job on the Who
catalog, whose few first studio albums the label will be reissuing
this June.

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