One Last Sample of Jimi Hendrix’s Genius
Reviewing an album called The Jimi Hendrix Concerts in 1982, I wrote: “A full dozen years after the death of the 60s’ most imaginative and influential rock guitarist, it’s a wonder that anything at all remains left to release.” Well, the wonders apparently haven’t ceased, because here we are, nearly half a century after Hendrix’s passing and we’re still getting previously unheard material. You have to wonder whether the guy has set up a recording studio in heaven and is emailing stuff back down to his record label.
Be that as it may, Both Sides of the Sky delivers 13 tracks and more than an hour of music, and all but three of the selections are previously unreleased. Moreover, while multiple other Hendrix renditions of several of the songs are widely available, some of the numbers here cannot be found elsewhere in any version.
According to the extensive liner notes, all of the tracks were recorded between May 1968 and January 1970. Several of them feature Hendrix with Buddy Miles on drums and Billy Cox on bass—the group that became known as the Band of Gypsies—and there are a few notable guests, including Johnny Winter, who plays guitar on one number, and Stephen Stills, who sings and plays organ on two. Lonnie Youngblood contributes blistering sax and sings lead on “Georgia Blues,” and the powerful “Hear My Train a-Comin’” offers the original Jimi Hendrix Experience lineup, with drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding.
Though these selections somehow remained in the can for decades, few of them sound like leftovers. Granted, the version of “Power of Soul” on Both Sides of the Sky isn’t as tightly constructed as the one on Live at the Fillmore East, and the muddily mixed “$20 Fine” also suffers from a weak vocal from Stills, who wrote it. But for the most part, you’ll find excellent performances here—including thrilling guitar work on tracks like “Muddy Waters’s “Mannish Boy” and Eddie Jones’s “Things I Used to Do.” (Those numbers, along with the aforementioned “$20 Fine” and Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” are the only non-originals in the set.)
The liner notes report that the album is “the third volume of a trilogy…intended to present the best and most significant unissued studio recordings remaining in the Hendrix archive.” So presumably, we’re finally at the end of the line with this CD. Savor every minute.
Elliott Murphy Reissues a 1983 Standout
I own more than 40 albums by the prolific and seriously underappreciated Elliott Murphy but for some reason, 1983’s Party Girls & Broken Poets wasn’t one of them until now.
I have it today because the LP—which represents an important chapter in his catalog—has been remixed from the original 24-track analog tapes and remastered and is being reissued on 180g vinyl. It finds Murphy in a rock and roll frame of mind similar to the one that informs such other early standouts as Nightlights and Just a Story from America. His vocals are excellent throughout the record, which features backup by Richard Sohl (Patti Smith Group) and Ernie Brooks (Modern Lovers). David Johansen (New York Dolls) adds vocals on the high-energy “Blues Responsibility” and Brian Ritchie (Violent Femmes) contributes bass on the title track.
Murphy has lived in Paris for decades but this album evokes the seamy underworld of New York, where it was recorded. The colorful lyrics—which in typical Murphy fashion come at you a mile a minute—limn assorted down-on-their-luck characters: the title cut tells of “bad boys” and “bad girls” doing “things you thought you shouldn’t do” and other selections paint pictures of assorted strippers, whores, and alcoholics.
Among the many highlights: the anthemic, well-hooked “Last Call,” which features avant-garde saxophonist Peter Gordon; “Something New,” a love song that rocks as hard as anything in the artist’s catalog, and “Everybody Knows,” a catchy folk rocker that begins with a typically cogent and evocative Murphy couplet: “Received your postcard mailed to the wrong address / You say everything’s happening much too fast and your hair’s a mess.”
If you’re a fan and, like me, missed this album the first time around, by all means check it out now.
Nino Tempo, Purveyor of Balladry: The Best of Nino Tempo on Atlantic. If Nino Tempo’s name rings a bell, it’s probably because you’re old enough to remember “Deep Purple,” the wonderful No. 1 pop hit that the saxophonist and his sister April Stevens scored in 1963. But there is much more to Tempo’s catalog, as this 13-track anthology of his later work for the Atlantic label suggests. Highlights include instrumental versions of Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade” and Bacharach and David’s “Anyone Who Had a Heart.” Also here: the Billy Preston-coauthored “You Are So Beautiful,” with vocal by Roberta Flack, and a number called “Amazon River” that winningly reunites Tempo with Stevens. The orchestrations and pervasively mellow tone might lead you to dismiss this as “easy listening” music. But if all such music were this sublime and inventive, I’d probably enjoy my time in elevators a whole lot more than I do.
Juliana Hatfield, Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John. Juliana Hatfield—known for her work with such indie rock groups as Blake Babies, Some Girls, and the Lemonheads—proclaims “I Honestly Love You” to pop singer Olivia Newton-John with this 14-track tribute album. In addition to a few relative obscurities, the program includes versions of four chart toppers—the aforementioned tune plus “Magic,” “Physical,” and “Have You Never Been Mellow”— plus such other Top 10 hits as “A Little More Love,” “Please Mr. Please,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “Make a Move on Me,” and “Xanadu” (which Jeff Lynne wrote and originally performed with Newton-John and his Electric Light Orchestra). It was only on her later hits that she shed her G-rated image in favor of raunchier, more rock-oriented material, but Hatfield punks up the whole catalog and makes even a love song like “Hopelessly Devoted to You” seem overtly sexual. If you’ve ever wanted to hear what Newton-John’s music would sound like in a new-wave context, this is your one-stop shop.
Robbie Dupree, Robbie Dupree and Street Corner Heroes. New York singer Robbie Dupree’s first two albums, which originally appeared in 1980 and 1981, have been remastered and reissued. The eponymous debut, which includes the hits “Steal Away” and “Hot Rod Hearts,” has been expanded to incorporate Spanish-language versions of those songs and two of the other tracks. Street Corner Heroes, meanwhile, adds the single version of one of its selections. Unfortunately, the music—which wasn’t exactly adventurous at the time of its initial release—has not aged well. In fact, this is AOR-rock at its worst, reminiscent of 1980s acts like Stephen Bishop, Christopher Cross, and (especially) ex-Doobie Brother Michael McDonald. Need a reminder of what sort of music led to the reaction represented by the new wave/punk movement? Listen to this.
Wood & Wire, North of Despair. Austin, Texas’s Wood & Wire don’t blaze any new stylistic trails on their third studio album but if you like acts such as Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, you won’t be in a mood to complain. Wood & Wire are as talented as such progenitors, and the momentum never flags on this 11-track acoustic collection, which features strong compositions, mostly by lead singer/guitarist Tony Kamel, and terrific, lightning-fast interplay between mandolinist Billy Bright and banjo player Trevor Smith. This is modern bluegrass at its best.
Mandy Rowden, When That Day Comes. The latest effort from Austin, Texas-based singer Mandy Rowden is even better than its predecessor, 1,000 Miles. If you’re looking for a reference point, Lucinda Williams remains an obvious one, but Rowden carves out her own territory with likable, unaffected vocal work, strong alt-country melodies, and lyrics that avoid clichés while capturing life’s small details. Best cuts include the up tempo, addictively hooked country rocker “If I Could Have Known,” a plaintive cover of Tom Petty’s “Angel Dream #2” (the only non-original here), the fiddle- and accordion-flavored “Bad Things Happen,” and “Christmas in Durango,” which combines a melancholy farewell to a sad year with a hopeful welcome to a new one.
Jeff Burger's website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades' worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include the just-published Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters as well as Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.