BBC boost for Jimi Hendrix fans

CD REVIEWS

June 04, 1998|By J.D. Considine

The Jimi Hendrix Experience

BBC Sessions (MCA 11742)

During a radio appearance in 1967, Jimi Hendrix admitted that he much preferred playing live to working in a recording studio. "It's very hard, like, warming up [in a studio]," he explained to a BBC interviewer.

Such a statement probably sounds ridiculous to today's Hendrix fans. After all, Hendrix packed so much studio experimentation into the albums "Axis Bold As Love" and "Electric Ladyland" that it seems inconceivable that he ever had trouble "warming up" to such work.

After spending time with the double-CD set "BBC Sessions," though, it's easier to understand what Hendrix meant. Because as these performances make plain, not only was there an almost telepathic communication between Hendrix and Experience members Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, but there's a sense of relaxation and confidence to Hendrix's guitar work that makes his playing all the more revelatory.

Hendrix's "BBC Sessions" itself isn't quite the revelation that BBC recordings of the Beatles or Led Zeppelin have been, in part because nearly half the material included here had been released on a now-deleted 1988 collection titled "Radio One." (Those who own "Radio One" needn't feel too bad about the redundancy, for "BBC Sessions" boasts better sound, more complete liner notes, and a much wider range of material.)

Moreover, it's not as if there has been a shortage of Hendrix concert recordings over the years. Between festival performances at Woodstock and Monterey, and albums ranging from "Band of Gypsies" to "Live at Winterland," Hendrix fans have hardly been at a loss for live albums.

What sets these "BBC Sessions" apart, then, has less to do with the novelty of hearing Hendrix outside a traditional studio session than with the way the BBC managed to make live recordings sound as pristine as any studio session. There's a version of "Hear My Train a Comin'," for instance, that picks up enough ambient sound from the fans to give a clear sense of how Hendrix played off the audience's energy, yet presents the guitar solo with enough clarity to please the most demanding Hendrix scholar.

In the liner notes, it's mentioned that Hendrix played so loudly during one BBC session that his guitar was audible in a studio three floors away, much to the annoyance of the string quartet performing there. Yet there's nothing abusive or distorted about the sound here. If anything, the tone Hendrix gets on "Catfish Blues" and "Love or Confusion" is warm and vivid, while even the fuzz-box effects on "Purple Haze" have an engaging warmth to them.

These performances also cover an astonishing range of material. Unlike today's rockers, who generally stick close to familiar fare, Hendrix seemed willing to play almost anything.

In addition to a healthy dose of oldies, including "Hound Dog," "Killing Floor" and "Hoochie Coochie Man," it finds the Hendrix Experience offering versions of then-contemporary hits. Perhaps the most jaw-dropping is their sweetly harmonized, enthusiastic take on the Beatles' "Day Tripper" (which was included on the "Radio One" album), but there's also a loose, jam-style instrumental version of the Stevie Wonder hit "I Was Made to Love Her," and a giddy, disjointed run through Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" (from a 1969 appearance on BBC-TV's "A Happening for Lulu").

For hardcore Hendrixophiles, however, the best thing about "BBC Sessions" are the multiple versions of some songs. It's one thing to note how this "Spanish Castle Magic" differs from the "Axis Bold as Love" version, something else again to compare two different takes on "Foxey Lady," or three different versions of "Hey Joe." This is definitely an album for those who believe that you can never have too much Jimi Hendrix.

*** 1/2

POP/ROCK

Rod Stewart

When We Were the New Boys (Warner Bros. 46792)

There are few things as embarrassing in rock as watching an old star trying unsuccessfully to seem young again. Fortunately, that's not the fate that befalls Rod Stewart with "When We Were the New Boys." Even though the album consists largely of songs originally recorded by Brit-rockers who were in diapers when "Maggie May" topped the charts, Stewart manages to sound every bit as contemporary as his material. It helps that the songs are well-suited to his gritty, guitar-based approach, with Primal Scream's "Rocks" and Graham Parker's "Hotel Chambermaid" sounding like they could have been Stewart originals. But even the ballads shine brightly, as Stewart infuses "Superstar" with sweetness and longing, and brings palpable passion to "Weak." *** 1/2

Pub Date: 6/04/98

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