Jimi Hendrix’s legacy has been so brazenly, endlessly plundered, it’s fair to approach any so-called “new” material from the late guitarist with a deep distrust. Circumspection this time soon transforms into pure joy.
Exploring a series of roving, post-1968 sessions after the dissolution of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, People, Hell and Angels does, indeed, include freshly discovered sounds — though separate takes, in some instances, have seen the light of day.
For instance, another version of the opening 1969 track “Earth Blues” can be found on 1971′s posthumous Rainbow Bridge. Here, though, Hendrix explores a leaner, funkier groove with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles, with whom he would take later record Band of Gypsys. “Somewhere” is, similarly, a different take than had been heard previously — this time, interestingly, with Stephen Stills on bass.
“Izabella” was first heard at Woodstock, then redone by the Band of Gypsys for a 1970 single, but is redone here with the Hendrix studio ensemble Gypsy Sun and Rainbows. “Inside Out” and “Hey Gypsy Boy” are embryonic attempts at more familiar songs, “Ezy Ryder” and “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun).”
Elsewhere, People, Hell and Angels focuses on Hendrix’s initial sessions with Cox and Miles (his visceral update of “Hear a Train A Comin’” a searing take on Elmore James’ “Bleeding Heart,” and the sadly unfinished “Villanova Junction Blues), as well as a riffy R&B jam with saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood (1969′s “Let Me Move You”). “Mojo Man” finds Hendrix funking up a Muscle Shoals tune from Albert and Arthur Allen, better known then as the Ghetto Fighters.
The album is rounded out by a few odds and ends, not atypical of the albums that have followed Hendrix’s untimely death at just 27 in 1970. The difference here is, co-producers Janie Hendrix, Eddie Kramer and John McDermott have vastly improved upon previously released cuts: “Easy Blues” is the full-length instrumental, featuring Larry Lee, Cox and Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, that had been horribly truncated on the now-out-of-print 1981 album Nine to the Universe. Meanwhile, these newly released versions of “Crash Landing” and “Hey Gypsy Boy” serve to right an even more tragic wrong — deleting, and most welcomely, the sessions musicians who had been overdubbed to the original 1969 Hendrix recordings back in the mid-1970s.
Of course, the very unfinished nature of this take on “Villanova Junction Blues” serves to remind us both of Hendrix’s fizzy, almost manically creative drive — but also his awful end. Record companies have been trying for years to recapture some of that magic, often doing unspeakable damage to the very legacy they were supposedly trying to celebrate. With People, Hell and Angels, Legacy Recordings has gotten it right — blessedly, finally, right.