Jimi Hendrix – People, Hell & Angels (review)

Jimi Hendrix – People, Hell & Angels (Experience Hendrix / Sony) review

The fact that Hendrix sounds fresh today, just shows how far ahead of his time he was back then.

People, Hell & Angels is an entire album of unreleased Jimi Hendrix music.  I know what you’re thinking – “this must be bottom of the barrel stuff, right”?  Unbelievably, the answer is no.  In fact, most of what’s included here is revelatory and can stand proudly up against his finest work.  There have been so many other Hendrix archival releases, so how can this be?

Well, one of the main purposes of this record is to right some of the wrongs that were done in the past.  After Hendrix’s death in 1970, his then-manager Alan Douglas released a series of albums featuring the guitarist’s playing, augmented by new musicians, which were overdubbed with no regard for Hendrix’s original vision.  There were album titles like The Cry of Love, Midnight Lightning and Crash Landing – a lot of this is just pure rubbish, featuring mis-guided percussion and backup vocalists.  That didn’t stop these records from making money, many of them creept into the Top Ten.  But, listening back to them now, they’re laughable.

The new album opens with “Earth Blues,” which far outshines the original version released on the Rainbow Bridge Soundtrack.  That take had trippy guitar noodling, a phased-out Hendrix vocal, and god-awful background vocals.  This newly-found version strips all that away, leaving just Hendrix, bassist Billy Cox, and drummer Buddy Miles.  A lot of Jimi’s music sounds dated – he embraced all the latest studio trickery of the day.  But, by eliminating all of that, we’re left with a very contemporary track – it doesn’t sound like it came from 2013, but it isn’t tied to any particular year either.

“Hear My Train” was originally released on the bottom-of-the-barrel heinous Midnight Lightning album, which featured re-recorded instrumentation, and Mitch Mitchell’s loping, psuedo march-style percussion.  The Billy Cox/Buddy Miles rhythm section handles this much better, it’s just a direct rocker, and it begs the question – “what was so wrong with this that Douglas had to mess with it”?  And Hendrix’s guitar is blistering, especially near the end.

“Let Me Love You,” featuring the squawking saxophone of Lonnie Youngblood, who also provides vocals, shows off a completely different side of Hendrix.  The song morphs into a funk groove near the middle of its almost seven minutes, and is more of a jam than an actual song.

“Crash Landing” is heard for the first time in its original, un-tampered form.  The version that ended up on the album of the same name featured newly recorded drums (complete with COWBELL!), a bass guitar that doesn’t mesh at all, and really horrendous backup singers.

“Inside Out” is a rockin’ instrumental which became “Ezy Rider.”  “Hey Gypsy Boy” began life as “Gypsy Boy (New Rising Sun)” off the ill-fated Midnight Lightning, originally containing the head-scratching addition of an acoustic guitar (?).  And what WAS Douglas’ penchant for cheesy backup vocals?

“Mojo Man” sounds like latter-day Wilson Pickett meets Blood Sweat & Tears – it’s actually a track by Albert & Arthur Allen. Not bad, not great, but Jimi’s guitar certainly elevates it.

“Villanova Junction Blues” is a short instrumental (just under 2 minutes) featuring some jazz chords alongside some blues soloing – it fades early, obviously incomplete.

A question arises after listening to People, Hell and Angels – why did Alan Douglas have to add new accompaniment to many of these recordings?  These tracks, made available in the original state that Hendrix left them in before his death, are perfectly fine on their own.  Many tracks, like “Earth Blues,” stand right next to the finest the guitarist had to offer.

While these are mostly unfinished tracks, by stripping away some of the extraneous overdubs, we get to see a different view of Hendrix as a fantastic musician, away from some of the studio wizardry that adorned his proper studio albums.  This is Hendrix in a little more of a raw form – not live, but not that polished either.  And, in this context, it is one of the most honest views of the legendary artist that we’ve ever heard.  –Tony Peters