The most immediate question posed by “Both Sides of the Sky,” a new compendium of mostly unreleased music by Jimi Hendrix, is obvious. Nearly 48 years after his death, are there any recording scraps of serious quality left that haven’t already been squeezed onto one of the nearly 30 posthumously released albums by the genre-defining guitarist?
Well, the answer is an immediate yes. You sense that almost from the instant Hendrix and the trio that would become known as the Band of Gypsys band grab hold of the Muddy Waters staple “Mannish Boy” and make it their own to kick off “Both Sides of the Sky.” One of Waters’ most familiar and resilient slow blues romps, Hendrix transforms the tune into instant rock ‘n’ roll with a chunky, steadfast guitar lick he might as well as have patented during the late 1960s.
The groove and sheer brazen jubilance of the trio (completed by bassist Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles) make “Mannish Boy” sound like it was penned exclusively for Hendrix’s sense of rhythmic abandon. For my money, this tune alone establishes “Both Sides of the Sky” as another vital and valid postscript to Hendrix’s regrettably brief recording career.
The music excavated for “Both Side of the Sky,” the final installment in a trio of albums pulled from the Hendrix vaults that began with 2010’s “Valleys of Neptune” and continued with 2013’s “People, Hell and Angels,” was recorded between January 1968 and February 1970. This was a period that saw the guitarist transitioning from the Jimi Hendrix Experience (which catapulted Hendrix to stardom in England and, by 1967, throughout North America) to the more elemental Band of Gypsys. As such, his playing was rapidly evolving.
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The immediacy and flamboyance of his records and live shows were gradually being shed in favor of tunes that embraced looser jams built around the blues. Sublime examples on “Both Sides of the Sky” include a wondrously scrappy take on “Things I Used to Do” where Hendrix plays largely behind the Texas slide guitar of Johnny Winter, and an extended “Georgia Blues,” a more traditional slow blues burner with Hendrix playing long, sinewy lines behind the scorched vocals and saxophone of his early-to-mid ‘60s boss Lonnie Youngblood.
Those recordings come from 1969. Back up a year and you have some wonderful Experience finds, including a blueprint instrumental version of “Angel” (titled “Little Angel”) and a newly extended look at “Cherokee Mist” with Hendrix on sitar and well as guitar. It’s an exquisite fly-on-the-wall view of Hendrix experimenting with tone, texture and groove in the studio.
So if you think you’ve experienced all the guitar mischief Hendrix committed to record, then slip on “Both Sides of the Sky.” Prepare to be surprised, and then amazed.