Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Jimi Hendrix - 1968 - Electric Ladyland

Jimi Hendrix 
Electric Ladyland

01. And The Gods Made Love
02. Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)
03. Cross Town Traffic
04. Voodoo Chile
05. Little Miss Strange
06. Long Hot Summer Night
07. Come On
08. Gypsy Eyes
09. The Burning Of The Midnight Lamp
10. Rainy Day, Dream Away
11. 1983... (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)
12. Moon, Turn The Tides... Gently, Gently Away
13. Still Raining, Still Dreaming
14. House Burning Down
15. All Along The Watchtower
16. Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)

Jimi Hendrix: guitar, vocals, piano, percussion, comb, kazoo, bass, electric harpsichord
Mitch Mitchell: drums, lead vocals, percussion, backing vocals
Noel Redding: bass, acoustic guitar, lead vocals, backing vocals, writer
Jack Casady: bass
Buddy Miles: drums
Chris Wood: flute
Steve Winwood: organ
Al Kooper: piano
Larry Faucette: congas
Freddie Smith: horns, tenor saxophone
Mike Finnigan: organ
Brian Jones: percussion
Dave Mason: 12 string guitar, backing vocals
Cissy Houston: backing vocals

Rolling Stone Magazine Review
Tony Glover
November 9, 1968

Being a bit fed up with music as "reactive noise" ("God man, the world's a drag, let's play loud and drown it out"), I was sort of set not to dig this LP, but I had to. Hendrix is a good musician and his science fiction concepts surmount noise. There isn't really a concept (no Sgt. Pepper trips here) — instead there's a unity, an energy flow. The LP opens with an electronic track using tape loops and phasing (think of "Itchy Coo Park" by the Small Faces for an example of phasing) called "And the Gods Made Love." Hendrix said in an interview, "We knew this was the track that most people will jump on to criticize, so I put it first to get it over with."

The "I" in that sentence is true — Hendrix produced and directed these sides himself. Following is "Electric Ladyland," a fairytale trip that serves as introduction to the rest on the LP; "I want to show you the angels spread their wings." Next is "Crosstown Traffic," a stomp under with a heavy beat. "90 miles an hour is the speed I drive, girl," sings Hendrix as he compares the woman with a traffic jam — "It's so hard to get through you."

Then a live cut, which sounds as though it was recorded late at night in a small club, at one of the jamming sessions Hendrix is known for. It features Stevie Winwood on organ and Jack Casady on bass, and is called "Voodoo Chile." It begins with a very John Lee Hooker-like guitar intro, and keeps a blues feeling all the way through, although Hendrix's lyrics ("My arrows are made of desire/From as far away as Jupiter's sulphur mines") are a far cry from "Rolling Stone" (the Muddy Waters song that's an ancestor to this track, as well as a lot of other things). After some feedback screech, a listener says "Turn that damn guitar down!" and the track ends with Hendrix and a chick discovering that the bar in the club is closed. "The bar is closed?" she says unbelievingly.

But yes it is. Side B opens with a song by bassist Noel Redding, "Little Miss Strange," probably the most commercial of the numbers included. Basically hard rock, the best thing about it is some nice unison guitar lines, probably an overdub, unless Hendrix has grown another couple of arms. "Long Hot Summer Night" is next, a song set in the "Visions Of Johanna" scene, although Hendrix has a way out — "my baby's coming to rescue me." An Earl King number, "Come On," follows. Mostly rock/soul, the guitar break in the middle is one of the nicest things Hendrix has done.

"Gypsy Eyes" begins with a drum thumping, a simple bass line and a compelling guitar line, it's a light groovy tune that really sticks to your synapses. (If it was possible to hum or whistle Hendrix, this would be the tune you'd most likely do.)

The side ends with "Burning of the Midnight Lamp," which was Hendrix's last single in England, released a year ago this summer. It's a freaky ballad, with particularly nothing lyrics and on the whole a drag . . . it goes nowhere. Side C is the sea or water side. It opens with "Rainy Day, Dream Away," using a small group that includes Buddy Miles from the Flag on drums. In it Hendrix does a lot to restore the grooviness of rainy days, previously much maligned in many songs.

This fades to "1983: A Merman I Should Be" (a merman is a mermaid's mate, of course). Hendrix's vision of the future shows a world torn by war, on the verge of destruction as he and his lady go for a walk by the sea, and dream of living in the water. With tape loops, melancholy guitar and the flute of Chris Wood (also from Traffic) Hendrix structures a beautiful undersea mood — only to destroy it with some heavy handed guitar. My first reaction was, why did he have to do that? Then I thought that he created a beautiful thing, but lost faith it, and so destroyed it before anybody else could — in several ways, a bummer.

Another electronic track, "Moon Turn the Tides Gently Gently Away," heals some of the rent in your head, and the side ends peacefully. Side D opens with a continuation of "Still Raining, Still Dreaming," only heavier and funkier — maybe just a bit too much so (iron raindrops hurt, man.) "House Burning Down" could be taken as Hendrix's first socially conscious statement, but it ends in typical Hendrix fashion; "an eerie man from space . . . come down and take the dead away."

Then comes the new single, Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" — in many ways one of the most interesting cuts here. On Hendrix's original numbers, it's sometimes hard to see the structure at first; the rhythm starts and stops, the changes are a bit hard to follow sometimes. But here, if you listen to the rhythm guitar track, and keep the original song in your mind, you can see the way Hendrix overlays his beautifully freaky sound on the already established framework of the song. He is true to its mood and really illustrates the line "the wind began to howl." Last is "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," done this time with his usual backup men in a studio cut, heavier and more driving.

In other words, an extended look into Hendrix's head, and mostly it seems to have some pretty good things in it (who among us is totally free of mental garbage?) A few random thoughts to sum up; Hendrix is the Robert Johnson of the Sixties, and really the first cat to ever totally play electric guitar. Remember, he used the wah-wah pedal before "Brave Ulysses," and he's still the boss. And it's nice to see that he is confident enough so he can play some blues again — I'd like to hear more.

Hendrix, psychedelic superspade??? Or just a damn good musician/producer? Depends on whether you want to believe the image or your ears. (And if you wanna flow, dig this on earphones, and watch the guitar swoop back and forth through your head.) Hendrix is amazing, and I hope he gets to the moon first. If he keeps up the way he's going here, he will.

Original Cover that Hendrix detested.

Electric Ladyland is Jimi Hendrix's tour de force.  Where he asked "Have you ever been experienced?" on his debut album, on this 2 LP release, he asks "Have you ever been to Electric Ladyland?"  Then, in a soulful falsetto voice, he continues "I wanna show you" backed by some of his sweetest guitar playing.  What he wants to show you is the sandbox of ideas Jimi had collected from his first two albums.  Soul, blues, a little jazz, and of course rock n' roll are all offered up here as a natural mix.  Though the album meanders a little bit (I wouldn't miss "Long Hot Summer Night" if it had been dropped) there is really little to complain about and it would be churlish of me not to award it 5 stars.   

In fact, much of Electric Ladyland is essential Hendrix.  Though properly the third release by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, by now there was little doubt that Hendrix was ready to move beyond the power trio format.  To accelerate that way of thinking, a falling out with bassist Noel Redding during the sessions left Hendrix to pick up the bass on several tracks.     

The simmering blues jam found on Side 1, "Voodoo Chile," featuring guest artist Steve Winwood on keyboards, saw Hendrix delving into the blues, taking Muddy Waters’ “Rolling Stone” as his blueprint.  If you are a fan of Hendrix’s extended solos, you will be in heaven.   

That 15 minute workout is bested by the double barrel blast of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" and "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" to close out the album.  Hendrix took Dylan’s song, originally a country-folk tale off his John Wesley Harding album, and turned it into a magnificent electric fireball of impending doom.  Slithering tambourines compete with Hendrix’s undertow bass and Mitch Mitchell’s thrashing drums to complement the axe-wielding guitar solos.  Apparently, Dylan dug Hendrix’s version so much that he started including the song in the electric set of his concerts.  "All Along the Watchtower" became Jimi's only American Top 40 hit, for those of you keeping tally. 

“Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” has more than a name change to differentiate it from its earlier incarnation on the album.  It is about a third of the length of the former track, making for a much tighter set.  The music is not the blues but a full on rocker, with Hendrix contributing swooping and diving guitar solos.  The lyrics are slightly different, too, with Hendrix offering a line that became often quoted after his death two years later: 

If I don’t meet you no more in this world 
I’ll meet you in the next one 
And don’t be late         

In between those monster songs, Electric Ladyland includes some minor classics where Hendrix has some fun in the studio with sound effects, backwards tapes, and recreating a “live” atmosphere.  In addition, Jimi coaxes unusual sounds out of his guitar using various pedals and amps, feedback, and overdubs.  The result is a sonic feast for the ears.   

The psychedelic “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” contains one of his most melodic moments when he takes a crack on a harpsichord.  He turns in a smoking cover of New Orleans blues artist Earl King’s “Come On (Part 1)” and wrote the slightly political Dylanesque “House Burning Down.”  “Crosstown Traffic” is a gutbucket tune that seemed ready-made for radio but probably will get its greatest exposure as the soundtrack to a car commercial.  Unfortunately, the ad execs will probably misunderstand Jimi’s great metaphor line: 

But darlin’ can’t you see my signals turn from green to red 
And with you I can see a traffic jam straight up ahead 
You’re just like crosstown traffic 
So hard to get through to you 

"Rainy Day, Dream Away" and "Still Raining, Still Dreaming" are groovin’ pieces where Jimi breaks out his wah-wah pedals to make his guitar talk as the chorus urges you to “lay back and groove on a rainy day”.  Together, the two songs serve as bookends to the ambitious "1983...(A Merman I Should Turn to Be)."  That song is the centerpiece of a hallucinogenic daydream apocalypse fantasy where Hendrix and his lover, weary of living on war-torn land, start a new life under the sea. 

I awake from yesterday 
Alive but the war is here to stay 
So my love Catherina and me 
Decide to take our last walk thru the noise to the sea 
Not to die but to be reborn 
Away from the lands so battered and torn 
Forever forever 

Oh say can you see it’s really such a mess 
Every inch of earth is a fighting nest 
Giant pencil and lipstick tube-shaped things 
Continue to rain and cause screaming pain 

On previous albums, Hendrix had shown a fascination with science-fiction, particularly casting himself as an inquisitive traveler from another planet.  Here he remains in his human skin and, with the Vietnam War in full force, pictures a life 15 years in the future.  But he does not seem to sojourn alone—his bandmate Mitch Mitchell, perhaps aware that Hendrix was both metaphorically and literally moving on without him, propel him with a jazz fusion drum rhythm, leaving Hendrix free to stretch out and chart underwater territory courtesy of his guitar and some studio wizardry.  Hendrix doubled-tracked himself playing the bass and threw in a relatively lengthy bass solo.     

Electric Ladyland is without doubt one of the most influential albums ever released by any artist, ever. It is widely held that Jimi Hendrix was the best electric Guitarist that ever lived, and I for one won't argue with that assertion. Electric Ladyland is probably the greatest Guitar album of all time. I don't have the power of words necessary to describe Jimi Hendrix Guitar parts on this album, they're simply indescribable. If God played the Guitar using Saturn as a Wah Pedal and the galaxy for an amp, it might sound like the Guitar parts of Electric Ladyland. I can't imagine a Guitarist since that could play the solo for Voodoo Child the same way Jimi Hendrix did. It's just way past words. My favorite song on Electric Ladyland though is Burning of the Midnight Lamp with sounds like a chorus of alien angels competing with Poseidon's Guitar, that's the best way I can describe it, and all of Electric Ladyland is full of such wonders. It's truly a watershed in Rock's history

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