Well folks, it’s been a crazy week and I’ve been busy with all sorts of non-blues stuff. I do have a day job you know. Two, actually! Unfortunately, Friday is running out and I only had time to write up four reviews. I know, I know, you were really looking forward to that fifth review. What could it have been? Devon Allman? Duke Robillard? Norman Taylor? Bob Eike? Well, maybe you’ll find out next week if I do Fast Six. It kinda kills the alliteration though and that’s going a little too far right? Maybe not.
This week does mark the 44th anniversary of the death of Jimi Hendrix. He died on September 18, 1970, just weeks before I was born. Somehow, his music has moved me since before I was a teenager. So, this week I offer a run down of his first two posthumous albums, which were reissued on Tuesday September, 16th. Also featured is a hot new disc from a guy I never heard of before, and a live album from a modern blues guitar hero who is under-rated for his vocal talents. I hope you enjoy them and find some music you want to explore.
The Cry Of Love
Experience Hendrix/Sony Legacy
Released September 16, 2014
The Cry Of Love was long regarded as the most accurate approximation of Jimi Hendrix’ intended final album. After Jimi’s death, Mitch Mitchell and Eddie Kramer compiled the completed tracks they had been working on for the Electric Ladyland follow up. While Hendrix had been hoping to put out another double LP, The Cry of Love is a single disc distillation of what was finished for the project. Naturally, Jimi could have changed any of these tunes or re-recorded them, as he often did, up until the album went to press but it’s generally accepted that he was satisfied with these as presented. The Cry of Love was available on CD until 1992 and all of the tracks re-appeared in re-mastered form later on.
The Cry of Love is a curious album and shows how diverse the planned double LP would have been. In 1997, Experience Hendrix attempted to create the double album and issued First Rays Of The New Rising Sun. Hendrix mention the First Rays name in a few interviews, but the last written title found on one of Jimi’s hand-written track lists, was Strate Ahead. Instead, the record was named for the last tour Jimi Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell did together, along with bassist Billy Cox, who also plays on the bulk of the album. The tracks range from the revved-up R&B of “Freedom” to silly blues jamming like “Belly Button Window.” Hendrix shows he hasn’t lost his touch with backwards guitar on “Drifting,” unleashed the funky Heavy Metal thunder on “EZY Rider,” and gave us the poignant ballad “Angel.” Over all, Jimi’s music was taking a turn toward R&B and funk, and his playing is less incendiary than on previous records but is no less masterful. His sonic palette was expanding rapidly and his ability to layer disparate guitar parts into an improbable whole was unparalleled. Just listen to all the parts in “Freedom.” His rhythm as lead style is prominent on “Drifting” and he adds Buzzy Linhart on vibes to the layers of forward and backward guitars. It creates an illusion of a sparse arrangement, yet it’s quite densely packed.
VH1 recently called The Cry Of Love the greatest posthumous classic rock record of all time. I can’t agree with them, but it is damned good. All the hallmarks of Jimi’s playing are here, his voice sounds great, and his guitar harmonies are soaring. It has been said that Jimi’s last year was directionless and frustrating as he tried to explore scattered arrays of new music but was stifled by his management, stressed by his legal battles, and irritated by touring demands. Jimi may have been looking for a new direction for his music but unfortunately he didn’t realize his music was the new direction. He brought it all together and that’s why it resonates with us over 40 years later. The Cry of Love reminds us all of what was lost on September 18, 1970.
Rainbow Bridge Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Experience Hendrix/Sony Legacy
Released September 16, 2014
Rainbow Bridge was the second posthumous Jimi Hendrix release and has been out of print for quite some time. While nominally a soundtrack from the horrible Rainbow Bridge file, to which Hendrix was loosely tethered when Hendrix’ manager Michael Jeffery realized his film project was dying a slow death. Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell, and Billy Cox appear briefly in the film, mostly through live concert footage filmed in Maui. None of the Maui concert is featured on Rainbow Bridge. None. Only about 17 minutes of highly edited footage of the concert made it into the film itself. So what is on Rainbow Bridge Original Motion Picture Soundtrack? Well, most of the songs on the soundtrack appear as incidental music in the film. Most of the music was intended for the planned sprawling double LP follow up to Electric Ladyland.
“Dolly Dagger,” “Earth Blues,” “Room Full Of Mirrors,” and “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” all turned up on Experience Hendrix’ 1997 effort to construct the great lost Jimi Hendrix album First Rays Of The New Rising Sun. “Pali Gap” and “Look Over Yonder” turned up on South Saturn Delta, the studio version of “Star Spangled Banner” was included on The Jimi Hendrix Experience box set, and “Hear My Train A Comin’” has been featured on Blues in 1994 and Voodoo Child: The Jimi Hendrix Collection in 2001, each with slightly different edits of Jimi’s introduction. If it seems like you need a scorecard, you’re right; especially if you have this album on vinyl and wanted a digital version.
There are plenty of reasons to want this album in its original configuration. It has no less than two now classic Hendrix tunes – “Dolly Dagger” and “Room Full Of Mirrors” – and an absolutely scorching version of “Hear My Train A Comin’” which was recorded live during the first show at Berkeley Community Center on May 30, 1970. In just under twelve minutes Jimi lays the groundwork for all the major blues heroes of the modern era. From Stevie Ray Vaughan to Eric Gales, it’s all here. If there is any doubt about Hendrix as bluesman, he crushes all your arguments in the first few minutes. The production on this live track is incredible too. Producers Mitch Mitchell and Eddie Kramer expertly meld it with the studio cuts. The whole album is surprisingly cohesive and there are no replacement musicians to be found as there are on Crash Landing and Midnight Lightning. Mitchell did do some drum overdubs however, but who’s to say those wouldn’t have been done anyway. Kramer and Mitchell were Jimi’s closest musical confidants and their love of Jimi and the music the made together comes through in the creation of this album. It’s nice to have it back in its initial form once again.
What It Is
Dog Breath Records
Released March 4, 2014
I hate shrill harmonica. In fact, it kept me away from harmonica bands for a long time. I owe my new found love of harmonica bands to Dustin Arbuckle of Moreland & Arbuckle. I love his tone. But this is not about Dustin, or me for that matter. It’s about the glorious harp tone that opens What It Is by Harpdog Brown. It’s rich, thick, gritty, and grooving. Harpdog has been in the Blues business for thirty years and you hear them all in the opening moments of “Doncha Know I Loves Ya.” The first four bars are the mission statement, buy in, and hostile takeover. It kicks off an hour of blues from the gut that will hit you where it counts on every track.
I don’t know how this guy from Vancouver sounds like he was raised in Mississippi but he does. The whole band melds styles from Chicago to Austin, and L.A. too. Guitarist Jordan Edmunds has a west coast blues feel, like a mix of T-Bone Walker and Little Charlie Baty, with just enough Texas shuffle to keep you guessing. John R. Hunter on drums and George Fenn on bass swing with delight, drop down low for the gutbucket shuffles, and march with pride. “If You Wanna Grow Old” sounds like the soundtrack to a train robbery murder mystery. Thematically it’s quite different. Harpdog relates lessons in moderation he’s learned in his quest to keep having birthdays. “No Money In The Till” talks about the hardships and travails of the 99% over a “.44 Blues” style riff. “Blue Lights” is a tour de force instrumental with Harpdog showing off how he earned his name. “Headin’ Out” closes the record with a definite Howlin’ Wolf vibe that was alluded to throughout the disc.
What It Is comes chocked full of classic blues tones, Harpdog’s robust vocals, colorful wordplay, and top notch playing. I admit I never heard of Harpdog Brown before last week, but I’m hooked now. This is honest, deep earth blues. These guys feel it; there is nothing forced. The blues seem to flow from these Canadians. Hail Canada, the new home of the Blues! What It Is is a harmonica lover’s dream. Harpdog digs deep, swings hard, and rocks the house. Hopefully it will find a home south of the border and worldwide.
Songs From The Road
Released on July 8, 2013
Astonishingly, Songs From The Road is the first live release from the dynamic Coco Montoya. Coco has probably logged millions of miles and thousands of shows from his days with Albert Collins and John Mayall to his stellar solo career. Coco has been out there playing the blues for decades. Recently Ruf Records has been putting out these live Songs From The Road sets, usually featuring one CD and one DVD. Here we get two CDs recorded on two nights, almost a year apart. The result is like getting a full Coco Montoya show on tape and it is glorious.
The spirit of Coco’s mentor Albert Collins is alive and well in album. The set opens with Collins’ “I’ve Got A Mind To Travel” and it makes the perfect icebreaker, giving Coco and keyboardist Brant Leeper plenty of room to stretch out with their solos and get loosened up. Also on disc one is a cold fusion tribute to Albert called “Love Jail.” It’s a classic Collins Shuffle, complete with Jimmy McGriff style organ and a walking bass line that Albert loved to have underneath his blistering solos. Coco Montoya shows what he learned from the Master Of The Telecaster blending it skillfully with his own style. The tune is a ten minute foray into blues jamming that makes you forget the inane love jail lyrics.
Disc two has an extended 15 minute take on the tender ballad “Good Days, Bad Days.” Bassist Nathan Brown plays a sweetly melodic solo. Coco’s guitar work on this tune reminds me of Mark Knopfler. It is delicate, precise, tone rich, and perfect for the song. He builds his solo into a sizzling frenzy and reins it back in to finish with gentle tones and volume swells. If this one doesn’t make you want to see the band live you might be agoraphobic. It should be noted that the liner notes and back cover have incorrect running orders for disc two. “Good Days, Bad Days” and “I Need Your Love In My Life” are reversed, as are “My Side Of The Fence” and album closer “You’d Think I’d Know Better By Now.” This is of course not reflective of Coco Montoya. This is a record label mistake.
There may be some printing issues with Songs From The Road but the playing is top quality. Coco’s band is locked and loaded, ready to follow Coco anywhere. Coco Montoya gets accolades for his guitar playing but his smooth, soulful voice is a major asset. He sings with authority and finesse. He also wrote all but two of the tunes on Songs From The Road. The album gives a great overview of the band’s talents, Coco’s abilities, and his deep catalog of songs. Songs From The Road has been a long time coming but it showcases an artist at the top of his game. Go out and get it!