Jimi Hendrix: Valleys of Neptune

RIYL: Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Phish

The music gods have once again seen the time fit to bless us Earth-bound humans with some more musical treasure from the late 1960s, this time with 12 previously unreleased studio tracks (mostly from 1969) from the greatest guitarist of all time. They sound more like they were recorded in 2009, which is fitting since Jimi was way, way ahead of his time. Thanks go to Jimi’s timeless skills and mixing by the great Eddie Kramer, who engineered Jimi’s recordings back in the day.

The title track is obviously the centerpiece of the album, and for good reason. If one tried to imagine a lost track from the First Rays of the New Rising Sun sessions, this is exactly what you would hope for. It’s got the funky sound that Jimi was exploring more and more toward the end of his all-too-brief time here on this rock, along with the metaphysical vibe he was increasingly getting into, with lyrics referencing Atlantean love songs and impending Earth changes. It’s classic late-era Jimi – the louder you turn it up, the better it sounds. The song is sandwiched in between a smoking “Stone Free” and a cover of Elmore James’ “Bleeding Heart,” to open the album with three consecutive numbers featuring Billy Cox on bass, while the rest of the album has Noel Redding.

Jimi’s take on “Bleeding Heart” is an up-tempo bluesy rocker that sets the stage for deep blues treasure on “Hear My Train a Comin’.” The latter is well-known by fans of Jimi’s highly influential Band of Gypsys project, with the Live at Fillmore East version being one of Jimi’s greatest performances. But it’s always nice to get another version of a seminal jam, and Jimi is clearly feeling it here. Clocking in at seven and a half minutes, it’s the second longest track on the album (only “Red House” is longer), and it’s a showcase for all of Jimi’s skills with some nice scatting going on behind the first solo, and then some of his best wailing on the second solo.

The album also features two other premiere performances. “Ships Passing Through the Night” presents a mid-tempo tune about lonely ships hooking up and shaking the blues out of one’s hair. “Lullaby for the Summer” features Jimi riffing out all over, with the trio shifting directions toward a more syncopated groove in the middle of the song. This makes Jimi’s hot licks stand out even more, demonstrating superb use of sonic spacing.

“Mr. Bad Luck” is a funky blues workout from 1967, with Jimi clearly having been in a good mood during the recording. “Lover Man” gets a similarly tasty workout, but it’s Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” that conjures the big jam. Several live versions have been released before, but this one is a keeper, with a nice breakdown in the middle that builds back up into a big crescendo.

Familiar classics “Fire” and “Red House” get fresh readings and Jimi’s playing is scintillating on each. “Red House” gets the deluxe treatment with an extended jam taking the track past eight minutes as Jimi digs deep into the blues well. The album closes out with “Crying Blue Rain,” a tune that starts as a slow burner but picks up speed until it’s cruising over a galloping bass line. Jimi doesn’t go wild, but his rhythm playing is quite inventive, creating a superb collective groove that shows how to play for the song. He’s still the master.