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Following Jimi Hendrix's premature death, we have been given a few meagre morsels, most of which have been poorly treated, whether that be due to poor packaging and information, or completely mistreating the recordings, Alan Douglas I'm talking to you. This was all before the bulk of Hendrix's recordings were regained by the Hendrix family, which operates under the title of Experience Hendrix, and since then, his long time fans have been provided with quite a few tasty morsels, and for me this is one of the best, This album is an attempt to recreate the double album project Hendrix was working on at the time of his death, which he at the time had called First Rays Or The New Rising Sun, a piece of work that would be a departure from previous visits and reveal a new more mature side to Hendrix. A lot of people will talk of him taking a route into jazz and such like, but this is only evident on a few recordings, and such was the influence and his ability to absorb such a vast array of music that such wanderings were to be expected.
There have been attempts to piece together his material for his next album, which came from three posthumous releases, Cry Of Love, War Heroes and Rainbow Bridge. All of the songs on this album are from these albums, but have been taken from the master tapes and remastered for CD. The main issue that has come under scrutiny is the track listing, as Jimi had written down a basic track list, but some of the songs on there are not available here, but this is simply because adequate recordings of the material was made, with some never having been documented as being recorded. Then we also have a track that was never intended for this release My Friend, which was a leftover from 1968, but it is a great track and fills in some of the gaps that have been left by the missing tracks. But this doesn't detract from the release as we can never truly be sure how this would have turned out if Jimi was still alive, but it is one of my favourite albums and definitely warrants a place in any Hendrix collection.
1. Freedom *****
His is a nice opening track and shows what Hendrix was trying to achieve, music that had never been heard before, moving away from his peers and storming a path of his own. The lyrics remind me a bit of Stone Free, but then this is probably only due to the similarities in the titles. This song is a sign of Jimi wanting to be free of the limits he had before, he had built himself a state of the art studio and wanted to take himself and his new experience in a new direction, and this was it.
2. Izabella *****
One of my favourite Hendrix track, as it has so much rhythm and feel that it just s strikes the right chord with me. The song itself was a staple of many Hendrix concerts and he had developed over a long period, including various other pieces of percussions, such as Maracas into earlier recordings, which can be found on some bootlegs and are worth a listen. The influence of this track seems to be a bit Vietnam, with the references to machine guns and fighting, but this is still a great track.
3. Night Bird Flying *****
This track began its life as Ships Passing In The Night, excerpts of which can again be found on good bootlegs, but slowly developed into this great song. This was originally planned as the B-side to one of Hendrix's singles, but due to his premature death this was never realised, but lies here as a beautiful piece of guitar and writing, and a track that really does show his development and maturity since Are You Experienced.
4. Angel *****
One of his most beautiful songs, and one that has been covered copiously over the years, this is a balld song that is much softer than much of the rest of the album. This began life again in the Axis sessions as Sweet Angel, a demo of which can be heard on South Saturn Delta, which I have also reviewed. A song that really embodies what Hendrix was beyond some of the showmanship and heavy guitar palying, he really could write softer ballads and this is the song that really shows it.
5. Room Full Of Mirrors ****
A strange song that had been played for quite a while by Hendrix, but is heard here with a lot of sound effects and instruments coming from all over the place. It is not a bad track and is a bit further out there compared tok some of his other songs, but for me is not quite as captivating as some of the other tracks on here.
6. Dolly Dagger *****
Another song slated fro release as a single, this track was inspired by his girlfriend sucking the blood from Mick Jagger;s wrist after he cut it on a broken glass. Perhaps not quite up there lyrically, but has some good guitar work and overdubs, making this more than good enough for single release.
7. Ezy Rider *****
Another song with a long performance pedigree, and one which is to be enjoyed for its spirited beginning and simple driving lyrics. Originally put on the Rainbow Bridge soundtrack, this track for meis best heard from some of live performances, where Hendrix usually sang with a bit more fire, especially the take at Maui. A very funky track with lots of focus on rhythm that seems to be one of the key features of the album.
8. Drifting *****
Another beautiful ballad, which was inspired by one of Jimi's heroes Curtis Mayfield. The guitar on this is nice a soft and its wavy sort of feel suits the lyrics and vocals perfectly, which is probably what was intended here. This was again often played by the group in their sessions, including it in jams, where the tune was developed and this final take was made.
9. Beginnings *****
An instrumental track that started life out as Jam Back At The House, named because of its constant playing at Jimi's summer retreat at Shokan. This is a jam based on rhythm, which the guitar following the drums and returning back to the same pattern, which takes it away from simply the loose form of some instrumentals and makes it more of a song, more than suitable for an album such as this. Again this can be enjoyed further on bootlegs, where it is often shown in a wider sense.
10. Stepping Stone *****
Originally released as a short-lived single, this was taken back to the drawing board, where Jimi added some new overdubs and gave it a more expansive feel. The song itself is a blues, something that varies a bit from some of the other tracks which seem to go beyond some of the features of simple blues, although this is far from simple. The lyrics are the biggest blues inspiration, but the instrumentation is beyond that, which makes this a very interesting track.
11. My Friend *****
The black sheep of the album in terms of when it was recorded, and because it was never really Jimi's intention to have this on the album. This is a completely different type of song from some of the others on the album, built up from more experimental background sounds, but with a main guitar and Harmonica. This was done when a few of Jimi's friends came down to play and was the result of a collage of instruments and includes a very bar-like feel that was adopted on many of his recordings. The lyrics on this are some of his best and seem very personal, with the fun and conviction in his vocals adding to this effect.
12. Straight Ahead *****
The title of the song was originally the name for the album and included on many of Jimi's final track listings for this, but was scrapped in favour of first Rays. This track feels very Hendrix, the guitar being one of the main factors. The vocals and lyrics also kind of sum up this album in terms of feel, with the change of rhythm and more expanse style of song, as most of the tracks on here are around or above four minutes long, a sharp change from the likes of Axis.
13. Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) *****
One of my favourite Hendrix songs, taking in an interesting guitar introduction and then slowly building into a great vocal part. This track takes on part of the name of the album and for me is a masterpiece, not relying to heavily on basic structure, but taking in different style from the start to the end. This though was never fully finished, and that is shown by the "Is the microphone on?" uttered by Jimi at the beginning of his vocal part. The chorus is a joy, taking on a powerful vocal and with the instruments building to a furious crescendo; even the lyrics themselves are great, for me a perfect song, although perhaps not finished to a standard Hendrix would have finally chosen.
14. Earth Blues *****
A track that shows the inspiration Hendrix had taken from his material for Band Of Gypsys, taking in a funky guitar and strangely beautiful backing vocals in the chorus. This is really an R 'n' B track that shows the effect a change of line up would have, as Miles and Cox moulded Hendrix's new direction and allowed him to create tracks like this, a mile away from the material on Are You Experienced.
15. Astro Man *****
A track that really shows Jimi's love of comic books and the likes of Super man, with this fun track about Astro Man. The song itself does feel a bit more pop based in the chorus, but don't let that fool you, as it is far from it, although you know they are having fun with this slightly lyrically comic tune.
16. In From The Storm *****
Another song that Jimi had developed through his endless jams with various musicians, a driving almost apocalyptic track that seems to be a track about Jimi breaking free from his confines, whether that be musically or otherwise. Includes some nice lyrics and a good vocal performance from Hendrix, and the guitar on this really shows his diversity, going from driving to quick and agile in an instant.
17. Belly Button Window *****
This is probably the least finished track on the album, involving Jimi alone in the studio recording this simply with voice and electric guitar. The song itself was inspired by the baby that Mitch Mitchell was having, and the belly button window that Jimi used to joke it was looking out of. But despite its sparse feel it is still such a good track and perhaps benefits from this style of arrangement, although a few instrumental versions of this exist with the bass guitar and drums included, and can again be found on some bootlegs. A fun song that ends this sublime album that despite not being entirely finished in some places, is still a brilliant testament to Hendrix's ability.
Some would argue that as this is not the finished package, it can never be considered a true Hendrix album, and in part that is true, but this is probably the closest we will ever get to hearing what it may have sounded like, and as such I cannot deny its merits. For me it takes all of Hendrix's creativity and puts them into the varied tracks on the album. It may not be as bluesy as Electric Ladyland or as funky as Axis Bold As Love, but it has its own characters, as with all his albums and shows his diversity as an artist. In my mind there is no one even on the same planet as Hendrix in terms of guitar and I doubt there ever will be, and this truly is a testament to that if nothing else. I have placed it alongside his other studio offerings in my mind, and I would hope that any fan of Hendrix will enjoy this as much as I do, cherishing what little he left behind.
First Rays of the New Rising Sun is an attractive assortment of "spiritual, very earthy" late recordings that surfaced in the 1970s via the albums 'The Cry of Love', 'Rainbow Bridge', and 'War Heroes'. In my view this album is totally fresh and brings Hendrix's guitar playing to new levels. The first track "Freedom" is as heavy as this album gets and has a wonderful little riff that is played throughout the track. Also in a similar vein is "Ezy ryder" which rocks. "Izabella" and "Dolly Dagger" and "Night Bird Flying" are mild blues/rock tracks with the usual melodic spins. "Angel" is probably the best track on the album and one of my all time fave hendrix tracks. It is sublime in its beauty and chorus. "Belly Button Window" and "Drifting" are similar in their true beauty. Much of the rest of the album is earthy, new age jazzy funk sounding. It is a very experimental album and imagine it is not going to appeal to everyone but to those it will appeal to, it will give hours of wonderful listening. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ --
Disc #1 Tracklisting
3 Night Bird Flying
5 Room Full Of Mirrors
6 Dolly Dagger
7 Ezy Ryder
10 Stepping Stone
11 My Friend
12 Straight Ahead
13 Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)
14 Earth Blues
15 Astro Man
16 In From The Storm - Jimi Hendrix Experience
17 Belly Button Window