Jimi Hendrix: People, Hell & Angels – album review
Jimi Hendrix – People, Hell & Angels (Legacy Recording’s (Sony’s catalog division)
CD / DL / LP
The posthumously released People, Hell and Angels came out a few days ago featuring twelve previously unreleased recordings of tracks Hendrix was working on for the planned follow-up to Electric Ladyland. Martin Copland-Gray was predictably bowled over by it.
The voice is unmistakeable, the guitar work is masterful and once again I’m being pulled back with unerring certainty to 1968, the year of my birth. Believe me when I say I have absolutely no problem with this. To spend over 50 minutes in the company of James Marshall Hendrix is always a pleasure.
This final posthumous release of studio recordings from the late psychedelic guitar virtuoso by Experience Hendrix LLC and Sony Commercial Music Group is probably the best of the lot. They say save the best to last don’t they and ‘they’ say a lot of things. Well ‘they’ are bang on this time!
Where ‘Valleys of Neptune’ seemed somewhat patchy at times, ‘People, Hell & Angels’ is a tightly packed collection of outstandingly re-mastered tracks from the left handed genius and erstwhile Band of Gypsys cohorts Billy Cox and Buddy Miles. The album also features significant contributions from the supremely talented Mitch Mitchell on several tracks and another 70’s super legend Buffalo Springfield’s Stephen Stills who contributes bass guitar on lead single ‘Somewhere’.
Two previously released numbers ‘Earth Blues’ and the perennial live favourite ‘Hear my train a comin’ showcased here in different forms get the album off to a fine start. In this version ‘Earth Blues’ is a stripped down slab of funk that immediately sets the tone and gives a hint of the direction the album will take.
Co-produced by Janie Hendrix, John McDermott and the legendary Eddie Kramer the line taken here seems to be yes you may have heard these before but pin your ears back and take a listen to them like this. Speaking as a Hendrix fan having heard many of the songs already, it’s a real treat that this kind of approach has been taken and to hear ‘new’ versions of old classics.
‘Somewhere’ is quite simply an outstanding piece of work. The kind of tune that sets your head a bobbing and transports you to some place else. Some place cooler and more ethereal, where your heart and soul move to the flick of a string and the gentle foot squeezing of a wah wah pedal.
Up next is ‘Hear my train a comin’ in a somewhat truncated version from previous live offerings of eight or nine minutes. Even so it is not a disappointment and once again showcases what a tight unit his band were. Towards the end they break off bang on cue for some solo Hendrix improvisation before bringing the song to a brief but crashing conclusion at the buffers.
As we draw breath from our hurtle down the tracks the Elmore James composition ‘Bleeding Heart’ gives us a very clear indication of where Hendrix majesty really lies. In fact the chemistry between Hendrix, Cox & Miles on this number is a joy to behold. You can almost see them right in front of you, amps humming, feedback crackling and a bass drum trembling with anticipation of the beat to come. It’s like we’ve been given a guest pass and ushered in through a side door to witness magic taking place.
‘Let me move you’ is a swinging, rocking number featuring soulful vocals and sax from the Prince of Harlem himself Lonnie Youngblood and wouldn’t feel out of place as the first spin on the turntable at any top rate soul night. Chugging up next is ‘Izabella’, a funky workout featuring Mitch Mitchell back on the kit and then we’re into the smooth, bluesy jazz of ‘Easy Blues’. It all sounds so effortless as bass, drum & guitar trade licks for nigh on six minutes, daring each other to take the song to places others could only dream of reaching.
The ticking start of ‘Crash Landing’ heralds some brutal lyrics from Hendrix. The melody may be beautiful but with lines such as ‘You don’t need me, you just wanna bleed me’ there is some real pain on show here. The line ‘you don’t love me, you just wanna suffocate me’ is eerily prophetic. Once again his guitar of choice, the famous Fender Stratocaster is given a full and extensive workout here and continues onward into ‘Inside Out’ sounding almost like ‘Foxy Lady’ at times. Is that a recycled riff I spy there? To be honest, when it’s this good it hardly matters.
The tempo changes for ‘Hey Gypsy Boy’ as the album begins its slow trajectory towards its conclusion. Echoes here of Hey Joe but with less of the sense of foreboding and more of a creeping moodiness. ‘Mojo Man’ is the song that Austin Powers would have given his best teeth for and taken pride of place in the Soul 45 collection of any serious Brooklyn block party DJ. Featuring vocals by one time Ghetto Fighter Albert Allen it evokes an image of 70’s America, Mr Big and Harlem Nights.
The album finishes with its shortest track, the one minute and forty four seconds of ‘Villanova Junction Blues’. It feels like the band walked in, set up their instruments and just fell into this natural rhythm. It all seems so cool and laid back like the image of our hero, guitar slung over his shoulder as he walks into the sunset and the track trails off into silence.
So he may be gone and his back catalogue may now be exhausted, but forgotten? Not a chance! As I listen once more to ‘People, Hell & Angels’ I’m transported. I close my eyes and I’m in my coolest clothes (if that’s at all possible), walking down the steps of some subterranean bar in downtown Soho. As I push through the door and walk into the main room the sound hits me. The funkiest rhythm I’ve heard in a long time propels me forward towards the bar where a slink hipped blonde in tight denim whispers perfume scented words in my ear. I’ve not had a drink yet and already I feel under some kind of spell. The guitar sound fills the room and I’m powerless to resist as she takes my hand and yearningly pulls me closer. The temperature begins to rise and the guitar genius gazes over from the stage and just smiles.
All words by Martin Copland-Gray. More work by Martin on Louder Than War can be found here.