Friday, March 16, 2018

Review: Jimi Hendrix's 'Both Sides of the Sky'

Jimi Hendrix hadn’t been dead for six months before the archive raids began with The Cry of Love. Over the next near-five decades, compilations of unreleased Hendrix tracks would be downright notorious in their abundance. That’s not to say there wasn’t gold worth mining, and the best of this stuff is condensed on 1997’s First Rays of the New Rising Son.

After about a dozen major outtakes comps in total since Hendrix passed, a new one titled Both Sides of the Sky appears this year. As is to be expected at this point, you should not prepare yourself for the discovery of anything on the level of “Ezy Rider”, “Dolly Dagger”, “Freedom”, “Drifting”, or “Stepping Stone”, though there is an urgent version of the latter on this new double-LP. And performance, rather than songwriting, is certainly the focus of Both Sides of the Sky. Band of Gypsys are behind the most impressive ones, with fierce versions of Muddy’s “Mannish Boy” and Hendrix’s own “Lover Man”. “Hear My Train A Comin’” is the sole track with the Experience (though Mitch Mitchell does drum on three others) and it is probably the set’s best showcase for Hendrix’s sci-fi, six-string showmanship.

A few tracks are curious for their lack of that showmanship. A couple with Stephen Stills on vocals—Stills’s own minor-league “$20 Fine” and the future smash “Woodstock”— are historically notable, but Hendrix never asserts himself on the former and only contributes some gnarly bass to the latter. What these are doing on a Jimi Hendrix record is anyone’s guess. He dominates the instrumental blues jam “Jungle”, but only on rhythm guitar.

A few oddities are more than worth hearing, such as the sensual “Power of Soul”, the menacing powerhouse “Send My Love to Linda”, and “Cherokee Mist”, a groovy instrumental that provides the ultra-rare opportunity to hear the master on electric sitar. For the majority who don’t already have it in their collection, the previously issued version of Guitar Slim’s “The Things I Used to Do” featuring Johnny Winter is top shelf.

While few will rate Both Sides of the Sky among Hendrix’s most essential releases, the packaging is unquestionably nice. For the most part, the sound is excellent (some tracks, such as “Cherokee Mist”, are more on the noisy side), the 180 gram vinyl is stored in anti-static sleeves (why don’t more contemporary vinyl releases utilize these things?!?), and the gatefold contains an LP-size booklet with extensive track-by-track notes and a slew of terrific photos.
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