Jimi Hendrix was a workaholic. If there was any question about how much gas that guy had in the tank, consider the fact that, forty-seven years after the end of life and following countless posthumous releases, we can still have a “new” Hendrix studio album appear in 2018, with ten of its thirteen tracks previously unreleased, and find it necessary, essential listening.
Both Side Of The Sky is a thrilling piece of work, offering new insights into Jimi’s capabilities, and more important, a consistently engaging album.
Credit producers Janie Hendrix, Eddie Kramer and John McDermott for having a keen for which of these tracks, recorded in the two year span from January, 1968 to February, 1970, would fit together as a coherent album. There’s a lot of straight-ahead blues here, including collaborations with Johnny Winter and his old Chitlin Circuit partner Lonnie Youngblood, and covers of Guitar Slim’s “Things I Used To Do” and Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy”.
But the blues gets turned upside down when Jimi sings it – what comes out is swagger rather than heartache or misery. “Hear My Train A Comin’,” the one song here with the Experience backing him, sounds like a blunt “fuck you” to his old town and all the people in it, especially his girlfriend. Likewise, the high-velocity studio takes with the Band of Gypsys taking on “Stepping Stone” and “Lover Man” – this guy’s not down in the mouth, he’s super bad. Considering the speed and devastation he’s bringing to these performances, you could call it “his punk album” as easily as “his blues album”.
The Stills appearances are fascinating. The two worked together often throughout this period, with many of the results still unreleased, others having surfaced on People, Hell and Angels. On these two songs, recorded on the same day in September of 1969, Jimi is content to play sideman to Stills. They’re trying out his arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” with Hendrix on bass. Not surprisingly, Jimi plays the bass like a lead guitarist would, finding harmonics nobody else would think to look for. Here’s also a worthwhile Stills original called “$20 Fine”, on which Hendrix overdubs layers of guitars. It’s interesting to think about Buddy Miles and Mitch Mitchell both hanging out in the studio on the same day, as was apparently the case. Did they sit there and brood , wondering which one would be called into the room next? Or did they play ping-pong together between takes?
One of my favorite things here is the extended studio take of “Power Of Soul” by the Band of Gypsys, which has a more natural flow than the edited version that appeared on the outtakes collection South Saturn Delta. Frankly, it’s a great enough track that it deserves to get reissued once again, probably the best of the Band of Gypsys studio recordings. We know that Funkadelic was highly influenced by Hendrix, but with the high harmonies on the chorus, spaced-out timing of the vocal line, and the stomping, spaced-out groove achieved on this, one might wonder if that influence went both ways.
There are a few instrumentals that feel unfinished, yet the playing on them is so lovely, they’re not unwelcome in the mix. “Cherokee Mist” sounds like a spontaneous jam with Mitch Mitchell, later overdubbed with a psychedelic sitar. “Jungle”, a duet with Buddy Miles, could be a sketch, laying down the musical outline of an idea that was never fleshed out. The take of “Sweet Angel” is absent the vocal, with Jimi’s prominent vibraphone track taking the melody during the chorus, and the result is gorgeous. Even these incomplete tracks have magical moments, thanks to his constantly compelling performances.
Of all the major studio collections released since the Hendrix estate took over his archives, I would place Both Sides Of The Sky at nearly the top of the heap, second only to First Rays Of The New Rising Sun. That collection felt like a finished Jimi Hendrix album, worth a place alongside the albums he released in his lifetime. This new one, like the rest that have followed, is simply a dip into the well of previously unissued material, but it’s a particularly satisfying one.