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Are You Experienced?

The Jimi Hendrix Experience

1967

1967 was an incredible time for music, as in both the US and the UK, rock was experiencing a creative explosion on a scale not ever heard before.  Bands like The Beatles, The Doors, and Pink Floyd were pushing the limits of what was possible in the recording studio, in the process challenging long-held notions of what popular music was supposed to sound like.  There were no rules, and the possibilities were endless.

And out of this incredibly explosive creative period also came a fellow by the name of Jimi Hendrix, lead singer and guitar player for The Jimi Hendrix Experience.  Chances are, you may have heard of him, as he is widely considered to be one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) guitar player of all-time.

That distinction, in and of itself, is Hendrix's claim to fame, and deservedly so.  He did things sonically that no one had ever done before him, a true virtuoso, influencing countless guitar players for years to come, and forever changing the face of rock music in the process.

But everyone knows that Hendrix was a great guitar player, but in actuality, that is just one piece of the incredibly dynamic puzzle that made up his band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience.  The combination of Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums complimented Hendrix's style perfectly, effectively amounting to the greatest 3-piece band of all-time.

On the band's debut album Are You Experienced, The Jimi Hendrix Experience manage to combine rock & roll, blues, soul, pop, and psychedelica into an incredibly fresh and invigorating sound the likes of which had never been heard before.  Whereas The Beatles were breaking new ground constructing elaborate compositional melodies, The Jimi Hendrix Experience produced a more raw, immediate, and exhilarating sound, thanks largely to the revolutionary guitar playing of Jimi Hendrix.

But as mentioned prior, there's a lot more to Are You Experienced than Hendrix's virtuosity on guitar.  This album has a special quality to it, a soulful, sensitive, and free-spirited quality that was unique to Hendrix himself.  Hendrix's ear for melody and his gifts as a vocalist are actually what make the songs on Are You Experienced so outstanding, as practically every track on the album is an experience (pun intended) in and of themselves.

The album kicks off with the classic "Purple Haze", which features one the most infamous and recognizable opening riffs of all time.  This song is incredibly awesome and a bonafied classic for good reason, featuring an infectious rhythm and a sexy swagger.  Rhythm is the key word here, as that is really what separated the Jimi Hendrix Experience from a lot of their peers at the time.  Rhythm and soul.

And the soul of the album really comes to the forefront on the next 2 tracks "Manic Depression" and "Hey Joe".  "Manic Depression" is a shit-hot, up-tempo, aching blues song.  It's got a very raw, carnal sound to it, and one of the album's many highlights.  "Hey Joe" is one of Hendrix's best known songs (albeit a cover), and yet another classic.  The song is slow and bluesy, and the subtle backing female vocals along with Hendrix's performance really add to the soulful quality of the track.

Aside from the classic songs on the album, there are many lesser-known gems on Are You Experienced, and the next 3 songs are perfect examples of that.  "Love or Confusion" is a fantastic soulfully psychedelic track, similar in sound to "Manic Depression" with its yearning, aching vibe, but less bluesy in nature.  Also like "Manic Depression", Hendrix's guitar playing is all over the map (without sounding overwhelming) and Mitchell's jazzy/busy drumming propel the song forward, creating a sonically dense, psychedelic swirl in the process.  Great song.  The following track "May This Be Love" takes the tempo and intensity down a notch with its incredibly mellow and relaxing vibe.  It's a really beautiful, sweet sounding song, and it's hard to not let your cares go by the wayside when this track is flowing along.

Perhaps the best of the lesser-known songs on album is the next track "I Don't Live Today".  This song effectively captures the aching feeling of isolation and loneliness that goes along with shutting yourself out to the outside world.  It's got a breezy, resigned, and hazy vibe to it, and the song ends with some classic Hendrix sonic-feedback, fading in and out as the song closes out, creating a disconnected psychedelic effect in the process.  Mitch Mitchell also really showcases his outstanding drumming skills on this track.  His jazzy, tumbling drumming style arguably steals the show on this stellar song.  One of the best on the album.

As far as the overall best song on the album, it's nearly impossible to pick one out amongst all the fantastic selections, but my personal pick would have to be the following track "The Wind Cries Mary".  For my money, it's the best Jimi Hendrix song of all-time, as well as one of the best overall songs of all-time period.  Here you will not find any extravagant guitar solos, or intense sonic psychedelic landscapes, but rather a quiet, spare, soulful sound.  Hendrix does a fantastic job of channeling one of his main influences, Bob Dylan, creating a poetic, thoughtful, and sensitive song.  And, like most of the other songs on the album, there is a bluesy and soulful vibe that dominates the track.  So Hendrix effectively infuses the lyricism and spareness of Dylan with a soulful sound alla Curtis Mayfield, creating a very special piece.  Throw in a very beautiful and delicate bluesy guitar solo and you have an incredibly sublime song, amounting to one of the greatest ballads ever made.

And like any great album, Hendrix follows-up the most emotionally spare and gripping song on the album with the antithesis: "Fire" a blazing (pun intended) up-tempo number and another Hendrix classic.  Fantastic song. 

Hendrix then takes the listener on a bit of a "trip" with the fantastic "Third Stone from the Sun".  A largely instrumental track, this song is a tour-de-force, showcasing the band's sonic abilities on many fronts.  Overall, the song sports a jazzy, psychedelic, airy sound.  It has some very mellow/sublime moments with beautiful melodies, psychedelic/jazzy moments, and of course, a blazing Hendrix solo thrown in for good measure.  It casts a unique spell on the listener, and is yet another highlight on the album.

Rising out of the haze of "Third Stone From the Sun" comes yet another Hendrix classic: "Foxey Lady".  With its sexy swagger and hooky guitar licks, it's no wonder it is one of Hendrix's best known songs.  The album's title track follows, sporting a trippy backwards guitar which adds to the druggy vibe of the song.  It's another good one.

Next up is "Stone Free" which is probably one of the most danceable songs on the entire album.  It's got a loose, free-spirited vibe to it, and like pretty much all the other tracks on the album, has fantastic rhythm.  Did I mention it has a blazing solo from Mr. Hendrix?  Because it does.  A truly shit-hot track and yet another highlight.

The great songs keep rolling along with the next track "51st Anniversary", possibly the best anti-marriage song ever recorded.  Irrespective of the song's message, it is yet another fantastic contribution to the album, featuring all the qualities that make a great Hendrix song: soul, rhythm, and blazing guitar.

The next 2 tracks on the album "Highway Chile" and "Can You See Me" continue the vibe of "Stone Free" and "51st Anniversary" with their free-spirited and hard-rocking sound.  While not quite as good as the aforementioned tracks, they still hold their own amidst the sea of fantastic songs found on Are You Experienced.  "Remember" is also another high-quality contribution, featuring a very sweet and soulful sound.

To close out the album, Hendrix serves up quite possibly the best "slow-burn" blues song of all time with the absolutely fantastic "Red House".  This song is so soulful and bluesy it makes me sweat just thinking about it.  Hendrix's guitar solo after the line "that's alright, I've still got my guitar...look out now..." is the best electric-blues guitar solo I've ever heard, pouring out gut-wrenching pain and soul with every lick.  It's the blues encapsulated.  Simply brilliant.

And brilliant is a fitting summation for Are You Experienced.  On their debut album, The Jimi Hendrix Experience managed to create something that truly stood out from the crowd in an era where bands were breaking new ground left and right.  Hendrix took the lyricism and free-wheeling spirit of Dylan and harnessed his soul and blues influences, along with his amazing gifts as a guitar player to create an incredibly dynamic and infectious concoction.  He and the band also took the psychedelic sounds of the era into exciting new sonic territory, doing so in a fresh, compelling way, without weighing down the album or sacrificing the energy level in the process.

To this day, Are You Experienced stands as the greatest debut album in rock history, and possibly the greatest album of the 1960s.  In any event, it is a classic, and simply one of the best albums of all-time...if not THE best.

9.9/10

Axis: Bold as Love

Jimi Hendrix Experience

1967

Many bands often suffer from the dreaded "sophomore slump" when producing their 2nd album, especially when that album follows a highly successful and critically acclaimed debut.

Fortunately for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, that was not the case on the band's 2nd album Axis: Bold As Love.  Not only was it "not the case" but on the contrary, it was anything but, as Axis turned out to be one of the greatest follow-up albums of all-time. 

This feat is all the more impressive considering the fact that it followed what many people consider to be the greatest debut album in the history of rock music: Are You Experienced.  For a band to capture lightning in a bottle twice is incredibly impressive, but then again, this was no ordinary band.

This was The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Axis: Bold as Love finds the group picking up right where they left off from their debut album, producing a fresh set of songs just as catchy and groundbreaking as those found on their debut.

That said, Axis generally feels slightly less ambitious than Are You Experienced, basically sounding like a more concise version of that album.  It could be said that Axis is simply Are You Experienced "Part II" although that would probably be oversimplifying the record too much.  Although the albums sound fairly similar (probably because they were both released in the same year), Axis finds the band stretching out somewhat and continuing the experimental nature that made their debut such a fresh and exhilarating listen.

The album opens with a brief skit about aliens before transitioning into the incredibly cool and jazzy "Up From the Skies".  This song is one of the most underrated Hendrix songs out there, probably because it's so chill and mellow.  It may sound somewhat underwhelming compared to some of the band's other material, but this song is "cool" personified.

After that subdued opener, the band kicks the door off the hinges with the explosive "Spanish Castle Magic", which is quite simply one of the most hard-rocking songs in the band's catalog.  Simply put, it kicks ass.  Nuff said.

The following track is another under-the-radar Hendrix classic "Wait Until Tomorrow".  This song is easy to listen to, melodic, has a great beat, and is catchy as hell.  It's sweet and smooth as silk, and one of my personal favorite songs from the band.  After that, the band kicks up the tempo again with the next track, "Ain't No Telling".  It's a short song, clocking in at under 2 minutes, but it's quite possibly one of the best under 2 minute songs you'll ever hear, as Hendrix and the band jam away at a delightfully dizzying pace.  It's a tight song and everything flows along perfectly, with each member of the band clicking on all cylinders.  Very cool song.

The following track is not only the best song on the album, but also one of the best songs of all-time.  "Little Wing" is short and sweet, clocking in at just over 2 minutes, but its melody is sublime.  It's an incredibly beautiful song, inspiring the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan and many others to cover it in future decades.  One of the sweetest songs ever made, and a great example of Hendrix's unique and endearing spirit.

The band follows up that classic with yet another classic, albeit with a much different vibe.  "If 6 Was 9" finds the band delving into more psychedelic territory, and as opposed to the sensitive and sweet Hendrix found on "Little Wing" here we find him in a much more fatalistic and rebellious mood.  His lyrical commentary is sarcastic and biting "white collar conservative walking down the street, pointing his plastic finger at me..." as well as fatalistic with this now haunting line "I'm the one that's got to die when it's time for me to die, so let me live my life, the way I want to...play-on Jimi"...  And play-on he does, closing out the song with some wickedly surreal and otherworldly psychedelic guitar-playing awesomeness.  Fantastic.

The band then switches gears with the next track "You Got Me Floating", which sports a more up-tempo, borderline danceable sound.  The song has a great rhythm and a fun vibe, sounding a little refreshing after the somewhat intense nature of "If 6 Was 9".  Another outstanding track.

Yet another classic song soon follows with "Castles Made of Sand".  Similar in sound and vibe to "Little Wing" it too is an incredibly beautiful and melodic piece, proving that Hendrix was just as good when he was writing sensitive ballads as he was when playing mindblowingly awesome guitar.  For this reviewer, he was at his best focusing on the melody, and songs like "Castles Made of Sand" are a perfect example of that.

Hendrix actually takes a break from the microphone on the next track "She's So Fine" as Noel Redding steps in to deliver the vocals.  He does a great job on the mic, and the band delivers the goods as well, giving the song a very light and breezy feel.  Another great melodic track.

The band continues to explore their melodic tendencies on the next track "One Rainy Wish".  This song almost sounds like a classic 60s soul song.  Really beautiful, really melodic, and very sweet.  Again, yet another example of how good Hendrix was at crafting beautiful and sensitive melodies, something that largely gets overlooked because of his guitar virtuosity.

Speaking of, the next track "Little Miss Lover" sees Hendrix rocking out in the vein of "Foxey Lady".  It's a good song, no doubt, but it's not quite as good as "Foxey Lady" sounding more like a rehash of that song than something new and fresh.  That said, it still has a great swagger, a distinctive Hendrix swagger.

Lastly, the album closes out with the title track, which is similar in sound to the soulful "One Rainy Wish".  "Axis: Bold As Love" sports a more passionate vibe however, and the song closes out with one of the most mindblowing Hendrix solos of all-time, literally sounding like he and the band are blasting off into outer space.  A fitting way to end and album that loosely has that "outer space" theme going on.

So overall, as a whole, Axis: Bold As Love is a stellar follow-up to Are You Experienced.  Because Axis is sandwiched between the aforementioned debut and the infamously mindblowing Electric Ladyland that followed it, the album unfortunately seems to get lost in the shuffle when discussing some of the best albums of the 60s.

Axis: Bold As Love is probably Hendrix's most accessible album, and while it may sound slightly underwhelming compared the album that proceeded it and the one that followed (both for very different reasons) it certainly stands on its own as not only a great album, but one of the greatest albums of the entire decade to boot.

9.6/10

Band of Gypsys (Live)

Band of Gypsys

1970

This is the only live Hendrix album he ever authorized to be released before his untimely death, and inititally, for whatever reason, I found it to be somewhat underwhelming.  It kind of has a subdued vibe to it, at least compared to what you might expect a live Hendrix album to sound like.  It's got a slow creep to it, but there are some undeniably amazing guitar moments from Mr. Hendrix to be found here.  "Machine Head" is literally mind-blowing at times, but I've always been partial to the opening cut "Who Knows"...it's pimp...and there are a couple of other good songs here.  "Changes", for example, has always been a favorite of mine.  This is a very interesting album, as it kind of hints at some possible directions Hendrix was about to pursue, namely soul, and possibly funk, who knows really.  Ultimately, it's not the bombasticly mindblowing concert you might expect, but overall it is pretty damn good nonetheless.

8.3

Electric Ladyland

Jimi Hendrix Experience

1969

When a lot of people think of Jimi Hendrix, they may picture a guitar prodigy, up on stage, stoned out of his mind, wailing away on his guitar, producing sounds that are as excruciating to listen to as they are mind-blowing.  A guy with a guitar who is clearly playing on a level that is too much for our frail little minds to comprehend.

Electric Ladyland, more-so than any of his other albums, helped to elevate Hendrix to that mythical status.  Granted he had already revolutionized the instrument prior to this album, but on Electric Ladyland, Hendrix stretches the sonic capabilities of his instrument into legendary territory, creating a mind-bending album on a level that has yet to be duplicated.

But there are downsides to creating such an incredibly dense, layered, ambitious, psychedelic album.  In this reviewer's opinion, Hendrix was at his best when he and the band focused on the melody and writing great songs.  And while there are certainly a fair share of classics on Electric Ladyland, the predominant vibe throughout the album is psychedelica.  It's about pushing the limits, going over the "threshold" so to speak, and while it is certainly impressive to listen to, it can also create a somewhat claustrophobic feeling at one moment, while sounding unfocused the next.

That said, you certainly don't get that feeling as the album kicks off, as the title track greets the listener with Hendrix's patented warm and mellow singing, before the next track "Crosstown Traffic" kicks things into high-gear.  Its an undisputed Hendrix classic, and one of his coolest and most hard-rocking songs to boot.

Then things start to get a bit more interesting with the next track "Voodoo Chile".  Clocking in at 15:00, this is a psychedelic slow-burn blues song of epic proportions.  It's incredibly awesome, incredibly intense, and also incredibly long, really a good microcosm of Electric Ladyland itself.  It certainly does an effective job of setting the tone for the rest of the album, as by the time the song is over, you feel like you're in another world. 

"Voodoo Chile" can be a little mentally draining, which makes the arrival of the following track "Little Miss Strange" a bit of a relief.  Its light and breezy by comparison, sounding similar to "She's So Fine" off of Axis: Bold As Love.  It's a good song, but not particularly a standout track, the same of which could be said about the next track "Long Hot Summer Night".  Good, but not great.

The next track however, is definitely borderline great.  "Let The Good Times Roll" sounds like the title suggests.  It's upbeat, tight, and it rocks.  "Gypsy Eyes" follows, which sports one of the best rhythms of any Hendrix track, thanks largely in part to Mitch Mitchell's infectious drumming.  Really a fantastic song.

After that we have "Burning Of The Midnight Lamp" which sports an intense, mindblowing sound.  It's got an otherworldly vibe, and a somewhat claustrophobic quality which only adds to the intensity of the song.  It's brilliant, but not particularly accessible, which is another good description for Electric Ladyland as a whole.

"Rainy Day, Dream Away" follows, which is quite possibly the coolest, jazziest, funkiest song Hendrix ever wrote.  Its a mellow song, but features a swinging, bluesy rhythm and some absolutely fantastic guitar courtesy of none other than Mr. Hendrix.  It's definitely easy on the ears.

Hendrix then meanders back into psychadelic territory with the next track "1983 A Mermaid I Should Turn To Be".  It's mellow, long, spacey, and as a result, lacks focus and kind of weighs down the album, clocking in at over 13:00.  Of course if you're in the right "state of mind" its probably pure ear candy, but otherwise, it can come across as underwhelming.

Nonetheless, "1983 A Mermaid I Should Turn to Be" does cast a calming, mellow spell upon the listener, and the next track, the brief ambient/instrumental "Moon, Turn The Tides...Gently" only enhances that effect.  

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, we come full circle with "Still Raining, Still Dreaming" which is effectively the 2nd half of "Rainy Day, Dream Away".  It's just as infectious to listen to as the aforementioned track (it's basically the same song) and is definitely one of the highlights of the entire album.

After the intense and chaotic sounding "House Burning Down" which also sports a somewhat claustaphobic vibe, the listener is treated to arguably the best song on the album "All Along the Watchtower".  This of course is a cover of a Dylan song, but it couldn't sound more different than the original.  Its an absolutely mind-blowing and exhilarating rendition, and easily one of Hendrix's best songs of all time.  Words simply do not do it justice.

It's that good.

And finally, on what would prove to be the last song on the last album created by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, we are treated to the epic "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)".  Quite possibly the most badass guitar song of all-time, it's a fitting way to end a mind-blowing album, as Hendrix jams away into the ether as the song slowly fades out.

Electric Ladyland can, at times, be a difficult album to listen to.  It took this reviewer several listens over the course of many years to fully digest and appreciate it.  It's not as immediate and natural sounding as Hendrix's prior two albums, but he and the band were going for something different here.  Its certainly ambitious and impressive to listen to, but because it sports such an incredibly dense, complex, and at times overwhelming sound, it also somewhat sacrifices the accessible and melodic qualities that made Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold As Love such brilliant albums.

That said, Electric Ladyland is an undisputed classic, revealing new dimensions with each listen, and to this day stands as one of the most impressive guitar albums of all-time.  A complex album that cemented Hendrix's legacy as the greatest guitar player of all-time.

9.3/10

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