Wednesday, August 29, 2012

War Heroes - Jimi Hendrix

War Heroes
Jimi Hendrix
Reprise Records  MS 2103

I think the question with posthumous Hendrix is "are you still being ripped off if you know you are being ripped off?"  I don't think any artist in pop music has been as ruthlessly exploited as Hendrix has since his premature death.  He only released three studio albums in his lifetime, but I would guess at least 50 albums have come out since he died.  It started with Warner Bros. and then MCA/Universal and now the Hendrix estate, all endlessly repackaging his outtakes and live recordings.  I'm not complaining, I eat this stuff up.  I've bought lots of these albums and never regretted a single one.  Warner Bros. was the worst of the three as far as I'm concerned.  They packaged the material shoddily and then compounded the offense by bringing in Alan Douglas to supervise the releases and he had the gall to tamper with the original tapes adding overdubs and erasing original backing tracks.  This album fortunately pre-dates the Alan Douglas era.  It was produced by Eddie Kramer who was the original engineer on many of the tracks.  It is still kind of shoddy though.  The title doesn't make much sense and there are no notes about the origin of the tracks.  Also some of the tracks were clearly never intended for release.  The album opens with a cover of Elmore James' "Bleeding Heart" from 1970 with Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell.  It is a terrific song with a smoking hot solo from Hendrix.  It sounds more funky than bluesy, he really makes it his own.  It is one of my favorite songs on the album.  It is followed by "Highway Chile" from 1967 performed by the Jimi Hendrix Experience.  It is not an outtake but rather the b-side of the British single "The Wind Cries Mary" yet it was surprisingly never released in the United States.  It is another great song, but it stands out from the rest of the album stylistically since it is so old.  Reprise should have stuck it on "Smash Hits."  "Tax Free" is an instrumental by Bo Hansson and Janne Karlsson recorded by the Experience during the "Electric Ladyland" sessions in 1968.  I've never understood why Hendrix liked the song so much, I think it is kind of monotonous.  On the plus side it does give him a lot of room to do his thing particularly in the manic rave-up at the end which is awesome.  The medley of "Peter Gunn" and "Catastrophe" (a parody of Frankie Laine's "Jealousy") was recorded during a session in May 1970 with Cox and Mitchell.  It is essentially a joke that was obviously never meant for public consumption.  I like it, but I'm sure Hendrix would never have approved of it being released.  The side ends with "Stepping Stone" which was originally recorded by the Band of Gypsys in 1969.  This song was briefly released on a single as the b-side to "Izabella" but was quickly withdrawn.  Hendrix was unhappy with the song and continued tinkering with it in 1970 and eventually replaced Buddy Miles' drum track with a new one with Mitch Mitchell which is the version that is on this album.  Judging from a surviving potential track listing, Hendrix apparently intended to include the song on the "First Rays of the New Rising Sun" album that he was working on at the time of his death.  The song is kind of messy but Hendrix plays up a storm on it.  By the time he finishes my speakers are practically on fire.  "Midnight" is an instrumental recorded by the Experience in 1969.  It sounds like a jam, I doubt that Hendrix would have allowed it to be released although of course the guitar work is outstanding and I dig the heavy riff.  "3 Little Bears" is another leftover from the 1968 "Electric Ladyland" sessions.  It is nowhere close to release-ready, I find it kind of embarrassing.  As Hendrix says at one point "this is really silly."  I don't think it is worthless, but then again I even enjoy listening to the man tune his guitar.  This is the censored version of the song with Hendrix's profanities mixed out.  "Beginning" was recorded in July 1970 with Cox and Mitchell as part of the "First Rays of the New Rising Sun" project.  The song is credited to Mitch Mitchell but on the "Woodstock II" album (where the song is listed under the title "Jam Back At The House") the song is credited solely to Hendrix which is probably closer to the truth.  The song sounds unfinished but it has enough great riffs running through it to fill an entire Bachman-Turner Overdrive album and Hendrix's solos are dazzling.  The final track,"Izabella," was also played at Woodstock and intended for "First Rays of the New Rising Sun. "  It was recorded in 1969 by the band Hendrix used at Woodstock, Gypsy Sun & Rainbows.  It is among my favorite songs from the "Rising Sun" sessions and I have no idea why Reprise waited so long to stick it on an album, especially since it was briefly released as a single.  I would have put it on "The Cry of Love."  Aside from "Highway Chile" it stands out as being the most polished and well-constructed Hendrix original song on the album.  There is some excellent music on this album, I enjoy Hendrix's outtakes more than I like many of his peers' completed songs.  However you can find most of the best tracks here on more intelligent and better packaged compilations.  Recommended for Hendrix completists. 

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