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Review: "Both Sides of the Sky" - Jimi Hendrix

by Kevin Quinn,

The ‘new’ LP from strat-cat Jimi Hendrix, Both Sides of the Sky, is the final part of a tomb-trawling triptych that began with 2010’s Valleys of Neptune and 2013’s People, Hell and Angels. Can there REALLY be much more to tell about the output of James Marshall Hendrix almost 48 years on from his premature death at the age of 27? (N.B. Half a million social media followers would suggest so).

In January, a launch at Spiritlab in the nu-glamtopia setting of Central Saint Martins saw an airing of the album plus a Q&A with between rockanteur and Hendrix man of sound Eddie Kramer.

Kramer was/is an effervescent presence, (re)living every bop, flick and thrum, his tales from within numerous circles (The Beatles, David Bowie, Small Faces et al) a reminder of how rock and roll (and its mythology) will never die (whilst it pays) and that it’s inconceivable that in 50 years’ time a similar event will have the same traction and cultural heft (e.g. Mumford & Sons’ joke-folk charisma-vacuum packed musings).

The album opens with blues-howling ‘Mannish Boy‘, a pristine sound evidence of the first recordings made by Band of Gypsys at Olympic Studios (Hendrix with Buddy Miles and Billy Cox) a trio of brio similar in oomph to Britrockers like Cream and Led Zeppelin.

‘Lover Man’ is a scintillating riffscape that divertingly breaks into Nelson Riddle’s Batman theme enabling Kramer to reiterate Hendrix’s raison d’etre to keep things uncertain through the medium of ‘jamming’ thus bringing out spontaneous reactions. That said several of these ‘jams’ do punch the clock and do their shift, ‘Cherokee Mist’ in particular is seven minutes of twanging the lead.

‘Hear My Train a Comin’ from 1969 is the last recording of the Experience (Hendrix / Mitchell / Redding who quit shortly after) and there are echoes of 1970’s hit single ‘Voodoo Chile’; heavy fretting and string pulling abound. ‘Georgia Blues’ sounds like a Seal and Lenny Kravitz hybrid, the axe-attack mimicking the hollering and moaning before some saxy-downtime.

The standout track is ‘$20 Fine’ a two-hander with Stephen Stills (on bass and wurlitzing dervish) the result an example of how you can never have too much funky business. Chris ‘Black Crowe’ Robinson is surely a fan. A hustlin’-bustlin’ cover of Joni Mitchell’s hippy-anthem ‘Woodstock’ (again with Stills) is close to Crosby Stills Nash and Young’s rendition albeit with an almost Holger (Can) Czukay motorik finale.

How much this album suggests that a different future lay in wait for Hendrix we’ll never know and how much it succeeds in attracting the uninitiated remains to be seen, but, as a document of this perennially influential artist forever pursuing the ‘new’ it retains its mysteries.