People, Hell And Angels

Jimi Hendrix

Experience Hendrix/Legacy, 2013

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


Were one to talk to a current day guitarist aficionado, their reaction to the name Jimi Hendrix might surprise you. Instead of universal praise, there tends to be a sense of “Well, he was good but not the greatest.” They might say that someone like Steve Vai achieves a technical perfection that Hendrix could only dream of, or that Jimmy Page took experimentation with the instrument to an entirely new level (violin bow anyone?). I am not here to settle the question of who was the greatest guitarist of all time, but it’s nice to get reminders such as People, Hell & Angels that Jimi Hendrix should have a seat at that table, even 40 years since his passing.

My glowing words for Hendrix aside, I must confess to being unfamiliar with the breadth of his discography. There have been countless essays and books written about Hendrix, his career, and the various iterations of musicians he played with and the variety of backing bands that supported him. While there are probably Jimi scholars that can debate the finer points of People, Hell & Angels and its place in the Hendrix canon, my impressions come from a listening of his essential records.

First things first, maybe the most impressive facet of this disc is the amazing production quality. The record just sounds great, a feat considering that these songs were never technically released and have been lying around for years collecting dust. The mix doesn’t bury the bass or percussion in favor of Hendrix’s lead guitar tracks, and definitely “sounds” more full than, say, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Axis: Bold As Love.

But that guitar....oh my, that guitar. No matter how many times you hear a Hendrix song, one just can’t help but be taken aback by the emotion and passion he wrings out of the instrument. Later musicians would learn how to actually make a guitar talk, but Hendrix made his talk in an entirely different sense. Again, there have been other players that had Hendrix’s level of talent, but it’s important to remember that he was the first to fully realize that a guitar could be much, much more than how musicians were using it, and that has to count for something.

Hendrix left a massive legacy on the music world, which is even more impressive considering that his studio output was limited to just three albums. Since his passing, there have been many, many records that were LP length and consisting entirely of unreleased material, or radically different versions of previously released songs. That has made speculation as to where Hendrix was moving musically quite the puzzle. The man simply recorded so much that it’s hard to pin down what would have happened.

People, Hell & Angels provides a few tantalizing clues to where that path may have led. Whereas Electric Ladyland and Axis: Bold As Love had strong ties to psychedelia, this album seems far more interested in the blues and R&B. The first third of the record has what I consider to be the “classic” Hendrix sound, but it takes a huge detour when “Let Me Move You” starts to play. Suddenly, we are being treated to a funky jam complete with sax solo; it’s almost as if Hendrix decided he wanted to be Sly And The Family Stone for a day. Vocally, one can definitely hear shades of James Brown in these performances. “Mojo Man” follows a similar path, but Hendrix takes a backseat on the lead vocals instead laying down a breathtaking guitar track.

Those excursions into R&B aside, it does seem that Hendrix was moving away from the experimentation that had dominated his final two studio albums. The blues get their day in the sun, (“Hear My Train A Comin’,” “Bleeding Heart”) as well.  “Easy Blues” may have a titular shout out to the genre, but has the syncopation of jazz at its heart. And quite frankly, as much respect as I have for the psychedelic movement of the ‘60s, there’s only so much this reviewer can listen to of it. People, Hell & Angels is a possible sign that Hendrix realized the limited lifespan of what that type of music had to offer, but again, sadly, we will never know for sure.

The Hendrix family has said this record will be the final release of its kind, indicating that the vault is finally empty of studio recordings at the very least. I wouldn’t blame anyone for feeling skeptical of that claim considering the monetary potential any new Hendrix album has, but if that statement is true, then People, Hell & Angels is a more than suitable exclamation point for Jimi Hendrix’s career.

Rating: A-

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© 2013 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Experience Hendrix/Legacy, and is used for informational purposes only.