Billed as an essentially new Jim Hendrix album, People, Hell & Angels largely lives up to the claim. If it had been released during the singer-guitarist’s not quite 28-year lifetime, it may well have been accepted by the millions of fans he gained during his three years of stardom.
People, Hell & Angels is both an affirmation of Hendrix’s long-recognized gifts and a glimpse of what may have come. His guitar genius is a given. It flashes and burns through the album with inexhaustible inventiveness.
The guitar is full, rich and varied in standout track “Hear My Train A Comin’,” an album highlight recorded in 1969 during Hendrix’s first session with bassist Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles, the rhythm section for his Band of Gypsys album.
The less expected aspects of People, Hell & Angels include the unusual guitar techniques and harmonic changes in the slow-tempo “Somewhere,” a 1968 recording featuring Miles and Stephen Stills playing bass.
“Bleeding Heart” features Hendrix, Cox and Miles reinventing the electric blues legacy of B.B. King and Guitar Slim for a new generation. Saxophone and organ, unusual instruments for a Hendrix recording, appear in the rocking soul of “Let Me Move You.” There’s also “Easy Blues,” a jazz-blues excursion, and “Mojo Man,” a funky soul number mostly recorded in Muscle Shoals, Ala., by Hendrix’s friends in the Ghetto Fighters.
In this age of artless digital music, the physical People, Hell & Angels offers a great CD package featuring classic shots of Hendrix and a booklet that provides recording session dates and info.
Son Volt’s Jay Farrar says he wanted Honky Tonk to reflect the sound the band had on its 1995 debut, Trace, one of alt-country’s pioneering albums.
That’s a great plan. Though Farrar has followed his eclectic interests all over the musical map, his warm voice never sounds more at home than when it’s surrounded by pedal steel guitars and fiddles. And throughout Honky Tonk, Farrar sounds great, especially on the gorgeous “Angel of the Blues” when he sings of time slipping through and burdens of truth, declaring, “Sad songs keep the devil away.”
Son Volt has come a long way on the six albums since Trace, as both musicians and lyricists. Musically, the influence of the “Bakersfield Sound” popularized by Buck Owens is here — and not just in the song “Bakersfield,” where pedal steel and electric guitars duel. The simple arrangements showcase the way Farrar can fit unconventional lyrical ideas into these tradition-steeped songs.
On the single “Hearts and Minds,” he adapts a Michael Stipe-ish delivery on the questioning verses before going extra-traditional on the chorus about unwavering love. In “Brick Walls,” Farrar takes us through a clever, extended metaphor about the “brick walls and bridges on the way to your heart” that plays off the musical simplicity.
Honky Tonk may seem deceptively simple and comforting in its alt-country traditions, but it harbors a whole lot of envelope-pushing ideas that only masters could make work.
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