[3 September 2009]
In the liner notes for The Jamie Neverts Story, Richard Lloyd lays out the genesis of the album in great detail. It is a tribute to Jimi Hendrix and their mutual friend, Velvert Turner. Turner was a young pupil and pal of Jimi Hendrix and, through Turner, Lloyd not only met Hendrix, but also became a “secondhand student” of his. And who is Jamie Neverts? That would be the pseudonym Turner and Lloyd created for Jimi in order to covertly discuss their visits with Hendrix around excitable friends.
With that context in mind, The Jamie Neverts Story becomes more than just an album of Jimi Hendrix covers: it is a love letter to two men who had a profound, personal impact on Mr. Lloyd. Unfortunately, that love is all too apparent in his overly reverential covers. Each cover is a note-perfect recreation of its original studio version. Lloyd’s vocals are even strikingly similar to Hendrix’s. Every last one of Jimi’s vocal turns is nailed so exactingly that it borders on OCD. This isn’t to say that any of Lloyd’s covers is bad. In fact, they are all damn near perfect—but they are also boring.
My problem is mostly a case of reality not meeting expectations, but I feel like my expectations are justified for someone of such a proven pedigree as Richard Lloyd. During Television’s brief lifespan, he and Tom Verlaine laid down some of the most breathtaking guitar duels in rock history. Either as a duo or taken alone, they have few peers. Raw talent aside, Lloyd also possesses a singular style—one that bears little influence of the blues. His style being what it is, I was very excited to hear Lloyd do his own take on the Hendrix songbook. I was hoping—no, expecting—to hear some “Lloydness” (however you wish to define that) in these covers, but there is barely a trace to be found.
With the exception of opening track “Purple Haze”, Lloyd wisely avoided covering any obvious/over-played Hendrix cuts, and his ten selections are all taken from just two albums—four from Are You Experienced?, and six from Axis: Bold as Love. On “Spanish Castle Magic”, Lloyd squeezes in some of his signature, skylarking licks, which, as I’ve already stated, show up all too infrequently. Much to my pleasure, he does deliver a more than serviceable version of “May This Be Love”, which may be my absolute favorite Hendrix song. With its fluid, undulating guitar lines and solos, the song was custom-built for a guitar expressionist like Lloyd.
On two tracks, “Are You Experienced?” and “Castles Made of Sand”, Lloyd plays to his strengths and extrapolates them out a couple of minutes beyond their original lengths. While this definitely injects a bit of much-needed spontaneity into the album, the act still feels like more of a tease than a pay-off. Instead of using the space to make the song his own, he’s more or less just jamming. As someone with a lot of faith in Lloyd’s abilities, I say that as a back-handed compliment.
Seeing as how Lloyd barely altered Hendrix’s songs in shape or form, he could have at least dazzled us with the epic solos of “All Along the Watchtower” or “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”—something I have no doubt he could nail in his sleep. However, I get the feeling he wanted to avoid such obvious treats. The mission statement for the album was “to capture the special essence of Jimi Hendrix’s playing”, which apparently necessitated a ban on the following: effects pedals, fuzz box, Octavia, Wahwah pedal, feedback, and backwards guitar. These bans most likely account for some of the record’s blandness. If you’re going to put such restrictions on yourself, then at least compensate with more creativity. Albums of covers are almost always disappointing, but it stings even more when you know an artist is capable of more.