The rightful position when it comes to a disc like Jimi Hendrix‘s People, Hell and Angels (they used to call them “catalog releases,” but there’s probably a new word for it now because I’m old and there’s a new word for everything) is almost invariably one of disdain. As much albums as this, or Sony Legacy/Experience Hendrix‘s previous mining operation, 2010′s Valleys of Neptune, are so often predicated on the idea of “new material,” and so often that’s a load of bunk, the cynicism on the part of a certain segment of the fanbase is invariable. The Jimi Hendrix Experience put out three records. Since Hendrix‘s death in Sept. 1970, more than 40 studio, live and compilation albums have appeared, and that’s not counting bootlegs, official and otherwise. It’s easy to see a release like People, Hell and Angels as part of an ongoing effort to take advantage of fan loyalty and squeeze people for their hard-earned cash by recycling the same old “previously unreleased” songs and jams.
I’m not going to argue with that position. At all. I get it completely and I won’t even say I disagree. Nonetheless, let me offer an opposing view just for fun: People, Hell and Angels presents very, very little that hasn’t been heard before, either in the form of these exact recordings or others like them, but as a fan and as someone passionate about Hendrix‘s work, doesn’t a new collection present an exciting opportunity to explore the material, even if it’s been heard before? This could be a new mix, or a new master, or hell, even a new track order makes a difference in the listening experience, so while “Hear My Train a Comin’” is so very, very familiar, can’t a fan also just enjoy the way it leads into the funky jam “Baby Let Me Move You?,” fronted by Lonnie Youngblood, with whom Hendrix had worked prior to getting big with the Experience? If we take away the idea of “previously unreleased,” couldn’t it possibly be okay to dig on People, Hell and Angels for being a shiny new Hendrix collection?
And I do mean “shiny.” Literally, the digipak reflects light. Metallic ink or foil paper may not be any newer than these recordings, but between that and the 24-page booklet packed with recording information and photos for each and every track, no one can say that effort wasn’t put into the package and the design. And while I’m on board with bootleg purists in eschewing overly clean remastered releases, listening to “Earth Blues” open People, Hell and Angels or the later cool jam “Hey Gypsy Boy” — recorded March 18, 1969, according to the liner — these songs do sound damn good. The thing of it is, there comes a point where the righteous anger of the superfan has to meet with the realization that not everyone in the world has the time, the interest or the passion to dedicate themselves to the project of hunting down and memorizing the entire recorded output of an artist. I’d love to be able to afford to chase down every Hendrix bootleg ever pressed, but I can’t do that or my wife will leave me. She’s all but said so.
So while we all know the implication of “newly unearthed recordings” or the image of some hapless studio employee finding this stuff in a basement and dusting it off to read the label and see “Jimi H. session, 6/11/68″ on there isn’t how it happened, I’ll take the rehashed blues jam of unfinished closer “Villanova Junction,” a different version of which was included in 1996′s Burning Desire for what it is. Tell me, even if you’re a diehard Hendrix fan, is there something you’d rather be hearing? I don’t think Sony Legacy is sitting on a pile of unreleased finished, mastered, never-heard songs going, “No, these are mine! Give them the same shit over again!” Pretty sure if they could sell that stuff, they’d do it, and even if it’s one or two songs on here that’s never seen light in this form, how much more can you really expect after 43 years of posthumous albums? If releases like this are for super-nerds and those who don’t know any better, I guess what I’m having a hard time with is seeing the problem in that if they enjoy listening to it.
And hell, if there’s some kid out there who picks up People, Hell and Angels as the first Hendrix album they own, can’t we just be glad that someone under the age of 25 knows who Jimi Hendrix is and assume that kid will use the internet research skills seemingly endemic to their generation to figure out that he or she probably should’ve started with Are You Experienced instead? Yeah, I know People, Hell and Angels has its downsides. It’s not short on them, but really, I’ve enjoyed listening to it so much while I sat here to write this and I’ve had so much fun reading about each of the songs in the liner notes, that I guess I’m limited in how much I can really tear it apart in a review. If that makes me a sucker, then I’m a sucker. We all are, to one extent or another. If you need me, I’ll be the sucker fuzz-rocking “Crash Landing” on repeat while he compiles a list of bootlegs to chase down.
Credit where it’s due, Antiquiet put together a great piece last year on where this material has been heard before. Commendable effort and excellent for the curious.
Tags: Gods, Jimi Hendrix, Jimi Hendrix People Hell and Angels, People Hell and Angels, Sony Legacy