People, Hell, and Angels
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
It’s only natural that the posthumous releases of the music of Jimi Hendrix keep on coming. Since Hendrix left such a finite amount of studio music behind (only three albums worth) before he died in 1970, the desire by music fans to uncover every nook and cranny of the evidence of his majestic talent is perfectly understandable.
The newest of these releases is People, Hell, And Angels, and it concentrates on recordings from 1968 on, when Hendrix was in the process of moving on from The Experience, the band that joined him on those three studio albums, and forming the Band Of Gypsys, a trio with Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums. There are also recordings on the new compilation where Hendrix plays sideman to some old friends and some other tracks laid down with whoever happened to be in the studio at the time (including one with Stephen Stills on bass.)
The vault excavation has been pretty thorough in the 43 years since Hendrix’ untimely death, so it’s not as if People, Hell, And Angels unearths some previously unknown gem that will turn the world on its ear. Just about all of these songs have appeared in some form or other on one or more posthumous albums over the past three decades.
Still, this new project wins points for mostly presenting unadorned takes of the songs selected, with no overdubbing or studio trickery that wasn’t part of Jimi’s original plan. As a result, there is a measure of authenticity and integrity to the album, and those who assembled it should be commended for it. This approach also yields musical benefits, as the raw potency of the performances is hard to deny.
Those looking for some of Hendrix’ psychedelic leanings might be disappointed, as the album leans heavily on bluesy material, so much so that it’s almost like an extended jam session. Some individual songs emerge from the mix, like a compact, stinging version of “Earth Blues,” while a few guitar solos stand out as well, like the wah-wah ecstasy of “Somewhere” and the playful romp in the break of “Hey Gypsy Boy.” The take presented here of “Hear My Train A-Comin” is the album’s highlight, showing off Jimi’s skills not only as a guitarist but also as an interpretive singer while the Band Of Gypsys stake their claim as a legendary band that never got the chance to get rolling.
Even if there is a sense that we’ve heard a lot of this before, People, Hell, And Angels is still a well-chosen and finely-presented collection that should not be blamed for that familiarity. After all, one could argue that every rock guitarist who plugs in until the end of time will be hard-pressed to present anything new in the shadow of what Jimi Hendrix originally accomplished and innovated.