Valleys of Neptune (Legacy)
The year 1969 was a strangely restless time for guitar visionary Jimi Hendrix. Coming off the improbable chart success of Electric Ladyland, the most grandly ambitious release of his short-lived career, he was at loose ends—at how to extrapolate further from Ladyland’s far-flung avant-blues experimentalism, at how to navigate the mad vicissitudes of psychedelic pop stardom.
The more-or-less unreleased tracks of Valleys of Neptune, dusted off by the Hendrix estate, mostly capture recordings from that uncertain period, through April of 1969. There’s plenty of old hat here; many of these tracks are songs with which even passing Hendrix fans will be familiar. Yet Hendrix was never happy with many of the Experience’s cheap, quick early recordings, or so it’s said. So he took the opportunity to revisit select songs, and came away with several arguably definitive studio versions. This reading of “Stone Free” isn’t just free, it’s almost off the chain, save for the grounding propulsion of a fantastic Billy Cox bass line. “Red House” here is the best studio version of the track available, showcasing a particularly mesmerizing Hendrix lead. And Hendrix’s siren howls and frenetic solo bursts on “Hear My Train a Comin’” tantalizingly prefigure his landmark live work with the Band of Gypsys nine months later.
Some of the new or less-known tracks, like the title cut, are more orchestral, though no less guitar intensive, full of lovely chord-melodies and symphonic overdubs and the kind of effects-laden genius that made Hendrix a man ahead of his time. These cuts show Hendrix working in the same vein that had previously produced his most adventurous work as an overall conceptualist and songwriter.
One foot in past. One in the future. So Hendrix was a little uncertain? Would that we all were so afflicted.