Jimi Hendrix died at the age of 27 almost 50 years ago, so I can see how it would sound silly that there are still “unreleased” tunes being found. And it is true how after Jimi died his catalog was treated with a quantity over quality mindset. Anyone with even the smallest hand in the pie cashed in with re-releases, demos, and live shows. Reprise, MCA, Warner, Capitol Records, among many others are all guilty. It got so bad there is even a wiki page dedicated to posthumous Hendrix albums:
Some of these releases are so unnecessary, they have me wondering if an engineer accidentally recorded Jimi ordering a ham sandwich if a record label would try to package and sell it.
This really hasn’t been the case since 1995 after Jimi’s dad formed Experience Hendrix, L.L.C. In the 90’s they cleaned up old contracts and sued their way to tightening reigns on the catalog. Since then, the emphasis has been quality over quantity. So much so, Both Sides of the Sky is only the seventh collection of Jimi’s demos, singles, alternate tracks in nearly 30 years and their first since 2013.
Both Sides of the Sky is the third in a series of compilation albums that began in 2010 with Valleys of Neptune and continued in 2013 with Hell, People and Angels. As with the previous albums, these tracks have been remixed by Eddie Kramer, who engineered all of Hendrix’s albums while he was alive. While it is true, you can and probably do have alternate takes of ‘Lover Man‘, ‘Hear My Train A Coming‘, ‘Power of Soul‘ and ‘Stepping Stone‘ on other compilations, Kramer’s efforts have these tunes popping off the vinyl far better than they ever have before. His contribution is worth the price of admission alone.
Both Sides contains a few solid collaborations with other artist as well. Stephen Stills appears on two tracks; ‘$20 Fine‘ is a groovy little number which has Stills on vocals and organ while Jimi does his guitar thang; and ‘Woodstock‘ (featuring Jimi on bass). While this version of ‘Woodstock’ will never replace the one that would eventually become a hit for Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young it’s still fun hearing Jimi take Neil Young’s place on lead. Now we can debate who did it better for the ages.
Johnny Winter is on the slide guitar for the cover of Guitar Slim’s ‘The Things I Used to Do‘ while Jimi is on vocals and handles the final guitar solo. Hearing these two blues legends swap licks together on this track is a real treat. Kramer has Johnny and Jimi’s guitars separated onto the left and right tracks, which I love.
Lonnie Youngblood is on vocals and tenor sax for ‘Georgia Blues‘. This tune features a pre-Hendrix Experience Jimi on rhythm guitar and was included on the Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues compilation. I remember reading how Youngblood was suing the Hendrix Estate and Scorsese for not giving him a writing credit and the royalties that go with it, but I guess that didn’t go too far since he doesn’t have one here too.
‘Send My Love To Linda‘ has Jimi grinding on that ‘Seattle Sound’ 20 years prior to Nirvana or Pearl Jam producing a single note. Neil Young might have had to share his “Godfather of Grunge” title if Jimi had stayed around a little longer to evolve that flat tone.
‘Jungle‘ and ‘Sweet Angel‘ are instrumentals that sound like the bones of an unfinished idea, but still make for an interesting listen. The slow jam of ‘Cherokee Mist‘ which features Jimi noodling away on the sitar is the only track that I can agree is… slightly… ho hum… but hey, it is only one out of thirteen.
Besides the music, I like the packaging for the album too. The tracks are spread out onto two 180 gram vinyl LPs, and it comes with a large glossy insert loaded with colour photos.
Jimi was young when he died after a relatively short career 50 years ago, so it would appear that any worthwhile material would have been been found, catalogued, and heard already. But when you consider how Jimi’s method for finding musical perfection was through continuous improvisation and experimentation; you can understand how it is possible for him to leave us with numerous recordings to still be sifting through to find hidden gems.
So, really the only question is the quality of the tracks on Both Sides of the Sky. For me the answer is: they are top notch making this is an easy album to recommend. While it is obvious how Jimi had not finished some of the tunes, and others are available on other compilations; with Eddie Kramer at the production helm they are as close to how Jimi intended you to hear them as we will ever get. And the track selection is a bluesy-rocking swinging good time for 90% of its duration with not a single ham sandwich order.