The Enduring Legacy of Jimi Hendrix

A trepidatious fan and guitarist takes a look at the new Jimi Hendrix album, 'Both Sides of the Sky.'
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For serious Jimi Hendrix fans, the words “new Hendrix album” can be a two-edged sword. On the one hand, any additional info on the Grand Poobah/Mack Daddy/Supreme Badass of the electric guitar is a welcome thing. Having said that, students of Jimi’s trip know that some “previously unreleased” tracks were unreleased for a reason. That’s why I was trepidatious about this latest addition to the Hendrix oeuvre.

Thankfully, those fears were largely unfounded, because there is a boatload of Hendrixian goodness on the 13 cuts of Both Sides of the Sky [Legacy Recordings/Experience Hendrix].

The opener, Jimi’s take on the Muddy Waters/Bo Diddley classic “Mannish Boy,” features a Uni-Vibe-soaked tone playing an “I Just Want to Make Love to You” riff. There are some cool vocal flourishes, and a must-steal lick at 3:05. The Band of Gypsys rhythm section provides a great bed for Jim to work his magic at 4:00.

“Lover Man” would seem like a great document of Jimi’s lead-guitar chops, and it is. But what’s really evident on this song is the fact he is one of the all-time great rhythm guitarists. The guy is just impossibly funky and in the pocket. Once again, the Band of Gypsys guys create a consistently soft place for Jimi to land.

Jimi is reunited with his Experience compatriots for “Hear My Train a Comin’.” The groove is a little busier, but the downbeats are still huge. The solo is driven by a crying, screaming, out-of-control tone where Jimi plays the howling feedback as much as the notes. The way he works the volume-knob dynamics is inspiring. How do you get 1,000 sounds out of one tone? Like this.

Some of the interest in this release is about the collaborations with Stephen Stills. “$20 Fine” gives Jimi the opportunity to play sideman to Stills’ organ and vocal, and he kills it. He turns in a powerful, thoughtful performance that makes a bold statement without taking over the song, and his parts once again serve as an awesome rhythm/lead tutorial.

Hendrix and Stills also team up on “Woodstock,” but Jimi’s only on bass for this cut. Locked in with Buddy Miles, Jimi delivers a beautiful bass performance with none of the showoff-y stuff that guitarists occasionally [cough] apply to bass parts. Again, it’s about the pocket with this guy, and his pocket is unassailable.

For Band of Gypsys fans, the crown jewel on this recording is a tune they have likely had in their collection for decades. “Power of Soul” represents all that is good about Hendrix, and it provides some tantalizing clues to the age-old question, “What do you think Jimi would have done if he had lived?” This isn’t just a great riff, but it’s a riff that he morphs into a bunch of different keys and harmonizes in fourths in a ton of cool ways. To call it a pentatonic workout does it a tremendous disservice, but it’s one of the best pentatonic workouts ever.

There’s more. Jimi rocks with Johnny Winter on “Things I Used to Do.” He reacts to Lonnie Youngblood’s sax and vocal on “Georgia Blues.” He plays sitar (and unreal feedback) on “Cherokee Mist.” He plays like Jimi Hendrix on every song.

This is an important recording from a historical standpoint, but it’s a flat-out great guitar record on top of that. It’ll remind you why you love this guy so much.