Review by Jon Birch
Listen Up Manchester album rating: 8/10
‘Who is the greatest guitarist ever?’ is a question that will rumble on and on and will, quite rightly, never have a definitive answer. I would argue though that if not the greatest, Jimi Hendrix is without doubt the most important guitarist in rock and roll history. Hendrix not only challenged the perception and limits of guitar music, but he also developed his own signature style and sound. Over 40 years since his death, it’s one that still influences guitarists to this day.
The announcement that an album of previously unreleased material from Jimi Hendrix was to be released, split opinion amongst critics and fans. From a cynical view point, it looks like a shameless cash in. If the material was any good, why has it been locked away for nearly half a century? On the other hand, Hendrix is one of the greats and if he had something more to say, it needs to be heard.
I had mixed feelings before the release but, having heard ‘People, Hell & Angels’, I can firmly say I’m off the fence. Is it as good and as instant as the classic Hendrix tracks? No. Is there much here that would trouble a greatest hits album? Not a huge amount. Is it an absolute pleasure to hear more from one of the most influential musicians in rock and roll history? Without a doubt.
The album opener ‘Earth Blues’ starts with a quick, ascending riff which seamlessly blends into a laid back, funky ‘Crosstown Traffic’ style rhythm. That distinctive voice comes in soon after and it brings a shiver down your spine to hear Jimi doing his thing once again.
There are also tantalising glimpses of what might have been had things gone differently that fateful, final night in Notting Hill in 1970. ‘Let Me Move You’ is a full on funk track and see’s Jimi rocking a James Brown style vibe, complete with guttural shrieks and grunts. ‘Mojo Man’ is another highlight and showcases his skills as a bluesman, albeit with that trademark Hendrix panache.
There are also clear signs of the influence he left on others. Hearing ‘Inside Out’, the riff is instantly familiar. It turns out Jimi did ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way’ years before Lenny Kravitz started out, ironically, on a career that owes more to Hendrix than anyone else.
This isn’t an album for casual listeners and if you’re new to Hendrix then it’s probably best to go for a Greatest Hits compilation. However, if your familiar with Hendrix’s back catalogue or you’re a true music fan, this is for you. Throughout this record the guitar playing is never short of exquisite. With Hendrix, it’s often those notes played in between the lick that make a piece of music so unique and there are so many examples here. Jimi Hendrix is such a huge figure in the history of Rock and Roll and his influence is so widely felt, it’s easy to forget he left us aged just 27. Listen to the intricacies of his playing and the masterful skill he displays over his instrument and it’s frightening to imagine just how good he might have become. Had fate taken a different turn that night, the question of the greatest of all time wouldn’t even be up for dispute.