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Jazz Fusion Meets Heavy Rock at the Crossroads
on 17 November 2014
Surely this is one of the all-time classic rock albums. There can have been few debut albums more ground-breaking than this. Coming back to it after all these years, I was struck by two things that I had forgotten. Firstly, just how important Mitch Mitchell was to the overall sound of the Experience. On tracks like Manic Depression, Mitchell virtually duets with Hendrix rather than merely providing one half of a rhythm section. The other thing is Jimi's sense of humour. Red House is an extended joke, almost at the expense of the "blues". This is so refreshing compared with all the po-faced white performers of the time (Step forward Eric Clapton.) who treated the blues tradition as something sacrosanct.
This CD version of the album is enhanced by the addition of various singles, including the sublime Hey Joe and Purple Haze. The economy of these two tracks from early in Jimi's career, before audiences and drugs took him towards excess, is striking. They both remain as pinnacles of the rock single, right up there with the very best of the Beatles or the Stones.
Of course, the overall sound is very much of its time. You could not imagine this album being made today, with Hendrix' hard rock guitar, Mitchell's jazz fusion drumming and the sometimes rampantly sexist lyrics. Hendrix has dated in ways that the Beatles, the Stones and even the Velvets have not. But if he is of his time, he also transcends his time. You listen to his music knowing you hearing something from the late 1960s, but you are also aware that it is marvelous and timeless. And it is marvelous not to just to old farts like myself, but also to our sons and, increasingly, grandsons. I find it is the same with the only slightly later Monty Python. Our sons and grandsons love it, while knowing full well that it comes from another age - a time before political correctness, drum machines and the best pop-stars routinely dying aged only 27.
I would recommend this album to anyone, of any age except perhaps the very old, i.e. those over 90. I suspect that boys will like it more than girls. You don't have to be experienced or stoned to enjoy it; in fact it may be better if you are not. You don't need to be an expert on the sixties scene to appreciate it, although I would recommend some familiarity with the work of another member of the 27 club, Robert Johnson.
In conclusion, I would say that, if you have the slightest interest in classic rock music, you should own a copy of this album, and the subsequent album, Axis: Bold as Love, which, in some respects is even better.