Jimi Hendrix: People, Hell & Angels

For Hendrix enthusiasts, and the historical record, this latest (and hopefully not last) installment is priceless in its way.

Jimi Hendrix

People, Hell & Angels

Label: Sony/Legacy
US Release Date: 2013-03-05

Do we, at this point, require further evidence that Jimi Hendrix was the most prodigiously gifted guitarist to ever play the instrument?

We do not. Then again, we don’t need additional proof that stars glow at night, but it’s still nice to see them light up the sky.

Not so long ago, Hendrix’s compact but concentrated recording career was measured by the official albums released before his death. Aside from bootlegs that ranged from inauthentic to unconvincing -- and occasionally exultant -- Hendrix’s posthumous legacy was marred by mystery. How much unrealized material languished in the vaults? Who oversaw it?

In recent years, members of Jimi’s family, operating as Experience Hendrix L.L.C., have controlled the keys to the kingdom. Since 2010 there has been a steady -- and quite welcome -- succession of revelatory recordings, including West Coast Seattle Boy and Winterland (both box sets) and the single-disc Valleys of Neptune. Much of this material has never seen the light of day so, taken together, they significantly broaden our understanding of how productive, and incomparable Hendrix really was.

The gifts continue to arrive, this time with the release of People, Hell & Angels. For Hendrix fanatics, each new installment signifies an event and is to be celebrated accordingly. Of course the aficionados will know in advance how much of this material has appeared, in various forms, on previous releases – both sanctioned and not. For the merely curious, or anyone who has not yet properly experienced Hendrix (are you experienced?), this is not the place to start. For anyone else, this disc, like the aforementioned Valleys of Neptune affords the chance to get caught up on a dozen tracks all in one spot as opposed to the aforementioned bootlegs. Put another way, this is hardly essential unless anything Hendrix did is essential and you want to hear everything he did.

What these recent releases all have in common is the case they continue to make that Hendrix was, as his debut album amply illustrates, a fully-formed player (and performer). Even as he grew and explored, he was seldom in one spot, aesthetically speaking, for long. The dates of the various sessions comprising this collection underscore what many people have long understood: Hendrix could shift seamlessly from the psychedelic adventures of Electric Ladyland to the straight-up, occasionally hard-edged blues, and seemingly every rock style in between.

It is, in fact, the blues idiom that gets a more than casual treatment on several tracks. Unlike many of his more polished performances, the songs included on this set, including a spirited take on the Elmore James classic “Bleeding Heart” and Hendrix staple “Hear My Train a Comin’” are no-frills affairs. Being works-in-progress they have not been multi-tracked or embellished with studio effects; as such they prove (yet again) that Hendrix was extremely comfortable using the classic blues formula as a point of reference -- and departure.

Even more enchanting are two tracks that have appeared, in different or edited form, on earlier releases. “Villanova Junction Blues”, which Hendrix would later play at Woodstock, is a snapshot of what the guitarist was trying to capture in the studio: still unfinished, it’s a crucial addition to the Hendrix canon. “Easy Blues”, which initially appeared on the impossible-to-procure 1981 release Nine to the Universe is yet another testament to his genius. It serves as (yet another) showcase of Hendrix’s dexterity and boundless technical proficiency; this should serve as the “I can’t believe I’ve never been able to hear this before” moment from People, Hell & Angels.

There are a handful of new versions of very familiar tracks, such as “Somewhere”, “Izabella” and “Hey Gypsy Boy” (which would eventually become “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)”. Perhaps most intriguingly, there are the genuine out-of-left-field oddities, such as “Let Me Move You”, which features saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood. “Mojo Man” includes uncredited horn players and lead vocals from Albert Allen, while “Inside Out” features Hendrix on guitar as well as bass (recorded in 1968, this is a result of the increasingly strained relationship with Experience bassist Noel Redding).

Not quite filler, much of this material is anything but indispensable. On the other hand, considering how fleeting Hendrix’s recording career turned out to be, it's remarkable that so much material was recorded. In this regard, Hendrix was way ahead of his time, ceaselessly working in his own studio and putting jams and improvisations on tape. What remains are fragments that got worked into more refined compositions, and enticing snapshots of ideas and visions that never had a chance to reach fruition.

For Hendrix enthusiasts, and the historical record, this latest (and hopefully not last) installment is priceless in its way. Any time we have an opportunity to hear Hendrix, particularly the incomplete works that clarify how his restless creativity operated, we are amassing additional (if unnecessary) validation that Jimi Hendrix, as an artist and explorer, has few peers in modern music.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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