Review Summary: "If I don't meet you no more in this world, then I'll meet you on the next one, so don't be late."
The release of 1997's First Rays of the New Rising Sun
, was an attempt at finally constructing the album that Jimi Hendrix never got a chance to complete. It consisted of unreleased studio recordings that Jimi worked on after the demise of the 'The Experience' in 1969, following the departure of bassist Noel Redding. Though Mitch Mitchell is still present in a few of the tracks, a lot of the music was actually recorded with future bandmates; bassist Billy Cox and his newest drummer, Buddy Miles, both of whom would go on to perform in his second power trio, Band Of Gypsys. At this point, you must be wondering where exactly People, Hell & Angels
fits in this particular equation. Well, during the initial plans for Jimi's fifth effort, he thought about releasing the official album (First Rays of the New Rising Sun
), as well as an additional release of songs that didn't fit the project under the name 'People, Hell And Angels'. In other words, this is the prolonged sequel of rare outtakes and early material from the First Rays of the New Rising Sun
sessions. So, what you, the fan, are being offered here is a chance to see how these songs evolved over time and how Jimi's plans for this legendary fifth album transpired.
This was a transitional period in Jimi's career, and it can be instantly perceived in the way the music expresses itself. Despite the recordings for First Rays of the New Rising Sun
taking place right after the release of one of psychedelia's most acclaimed landmark efforts, Electric Ladyland
, this particular album shows Jimi beginning to deviate from elaborate innovations and embracing a style that is much more simple. People, Hell & Angels
could in a way be considered the 'actual' debut of Band of Gypsys because not only is most of the content constructed by its members, but it also reveals the intrinsic blues-rock sound that the group would become revered for. Immediately as "Earth Blues" opens up the album, we can already hear a different Jimi Hendrix playing the guitar. There are no layers of fuzzed-out distortion or excessive wah-wah decorations to be found in the execution of his riffs and solo work, it's just 'electrified' blues. Even the vocal choruses that accompany Jimi's leads, have this conspicuously derived influence from gospel and soul music. The sound of Band Of Gypsys has often been recognized as Jimi's attempt to reconnect with the southern 'roots' of traditional blues, which helps add a soulful tone to a handful of the tracks. "Somewhere" is one of the very few to feature the usage of wah-wah distortion, but their role has a different purpose here than that found in albums like Axis: Bold as Love
and Electric Ladyland
. The wah-wah touches are used with a noticeable sense of restrain, and it's because Jimi incorporates the technique to simply magnify the groove of his guitar rather than setting it up as a prominent display of psychedelic assertions.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the main details of People, Hell & Angels
is that it is embodied by a handful of familiar songs, though each one presented under different interpretations, whether it be musical or lyrical. Some are present in First Rays of the New Rising Sun
, while others we've heard numerous times in other posthumously released albums. The main examples that come to mind would be "Izabella" and "Hear My Train A Comin'", which practically every fan of Jimi Hendrix has heard at least once, especially their most famous renditions in the Woodstock festival and at the Fillmore East with Band of Gypsys. "Izabella" is one of the few tracks to not only feature Mitch Mitchell playing alongside Jimi, but it also exhibits the supporting band from the original Woodstock performance as well. Though guitarist Larry Lee and percussionists Jerry Velez and Juma Sultan, manage to make an appearance, this particular version of "Izabella", doesn't quite live up to the level of charismatic vitality that was expressed at Woodstock. Besides their length, there isn't much of a difference in their structure and musical compositions, yet this studio version lacks that similar raw feel to augment the volume and intensity of the music. As for "Hear My Train A Comin'", we've seen this song reappear in 1975's Midnight Lightning
, 2010's Valleys of Neptune
, as well as countless box sets and live recordings that its come to the point where no matter what variation in sound this song may offer- we're tired of hearing it. This piece is without a doubt one of Jimi's most celebrated blues numbers, and though it delivers its usual vivacious demeanor and abundance of exhilarating guitar solos by the legend himself, there's virtually nothing here that wasn't already offered in both the previous studio and live versions.
As entertaining as this album may be, a lot of these songs, needless to say, feel rather parched of vitality. The latter portion of the album, primarily songs like "Crash Landing", "Hey Gypsy Boy", and "Villanova Junction Blues", feel as if they're missing some kind of small, though crucial element needed to enliven the irresistible allure that's found in Jimi's previous works. The funky rhythms in "Crash Landing" and lyrical passages from "Hey Gypsy Boys" are basically early archetypes that were perhaps deemed by Jimi as being deficient, because they would eventually be renovated to make up their First Rays of the New Rising Sun
incarnations, "Dolly Dagger" and "Hey Baby". The concluding piece, "Villanova Junction Blues", is just a short jam between the musicians that accomplishes nothing in its less than two minute lifespan other than a few rhythms and melodies to end the album. "Let Me Move You" and "Mojo Man" are the only pieces in this entire album that actually feel 'complete'. They're both jazz-influenced and grooving jams that spices up People, Hell & Angels
with some much needed innovation that redeem the essence of stagnancy throughout the album. Overall, this is certainly an intriguing perspective on the events surrounding the sessions for Jimi's unfinished fifth album, but in the end, it has very little to offer anyone besides 'Hendrix-fanatics' who must
hear these rare outtakes to expand their knowledge of his work. There's more than a few standout pieces to be found, though nothing that will come as any major surprise. But I suppose this is still a momentous release as it signifies the last of the studio recordings that have been kept from the public's ears. Nevertheless, this is far from being the last time we'll hear about a new Jimi Hendrix release, in fact, it's already been revealed that there will be several as-yet-unreleased live recordings to be available in the coming years. As if Jimi Hendrix didn't already have enough live albums as it is.