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Opinion: Jimi and Elvis are back in the spotlight

February 21, 2013
By MARK J. MILLER - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

This week I review upcoming releases featuring two icons of rock, both to be released in March by Sony/Legacy.

Jimi Hendrix - "People, Hell and Angels"

This single disc, set to be dropped March 5 on both vinyl and CD, contains previously unreleased Hendrix material or songs that have been altered from their original releases.

This set follows the same template as the last "new" Hendrix album released by Sony, "Valleys of Neptune," released in 2010. Heralding this as a new release by an artist who's been dead for more than 40 years is both a clever marketing ploy as well as a testament to Hendrix's never-ending appeal, even to younger fans who weren't alive when he died in 1970.

It also speaks to the mind-boggling amount of recorded Hendrix there is in that the well hasn't completely dried up and fresh material still is yet to be heard. This is astonishing considering he really only recorded as Jimi Hendrix for about three years. But it often seems that every note he ever played, while live or in the studio, was recorded.

It's no secret Hendrix preferred jamming in the studio while letting tape roll to capture ideas he had on a whim, only to later go back, listen and refine his ideas into great songs. While "Valley of Neptunes" was a solid - though unsurprising - set, "People, Hell and Angels," while still interesting and worthy for the legions of Hendrix completists, shows the well might finally be drying up?

While there are some fine songs here, most of them are incomplete ideas that later on were polished and eventually released by Hendrix, abandoned by him or released with overdubbed players after Hendrix's death. They really sound like demos rather than fully completed material, and I can't imagine Hendrix, a notorious perfectionist, would have wanted this to be released.

I'm all for Hendrix material, particularly the live stuff, to make the light of day, and Sony has done an outstanding job of honoring Hendrix's legacy with wonderful re-issues. There are some cool jams on "People, Hell and Angels," and I especially dig the unreleased version of the Hendrix staple "Hear My Train a-Coming" played at a faster clip than usual. I also like the opener, "Earth Blues," one of my favorite Hendrix tunes, stripped down to just a trio. "Izabella" is another favorite, although the version here sounds uber-rough compared to other versions I've heard.

The release really runs out of gas at the end, with "Inside Out," "Mojo Man" and "Hey, Gypsy Boy" hardly worth a second listen. The stripped down version of "Crash Landing" is just OK and kind of sloppy. It's clear this was just a rough demo, and I can understand why it was cleaned up and released with posthumous production in the early 1970s, although that release has been condemned as ethically sketchy by Hendrix purists.

To sum it up, there's nothing essential or interesting enough on "People, Hell and Angels" to warrant its release as a "new" Hendrix album. This is better for those that want to hear every note Hendrix ever recorded, like ... me! Otherwise, it's all pretty much been heard before.

Elvis Presley - "Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite (Legacy Edition)"

"Long Live the King - the King is Dead" seems to be the mantra for Sony/Legacy as it drops an expanded package of another live Elvis' show in the 1970s. The good news for fans is this time around Elvis was in good voice and good form on this two-CD, 71-song set of the King's glory years in full-blown Vegas mode.

While there are few surprises, Elvis seems engaged, like he knew this performance mattered - not always the case with L's mid-1970s live material where he could sound weak, out-of-tune or just bored.

This was actually the first-ever, world-wide broadcast of a live concert via satellite from the Pacific Island state, and there were millions of viewers and listeners worldwide. Elvis looked pretty slick in has white jumpsuit complete with cape, and he had a great band during this period featuring the superlative and legendary guitarist James Burton picking hot licks while El crooned.

The King of rock and roll sounds positively bored on his '50s hits, phoning it in for "Johnny B. Goode," "Blue Suede Shoes," Jailhouse Rock" and "Hound Dog." He might as well be singing from a telephone book on the Beatles' "Something," which is positively wretched. Curiously, Elvis sounds much more committed to the country and middle-of-the-road material, which seems surprising until you realize his favorite singer before he became a worldwide sensation was Dean Martin.

It's obvious the King of Rock and Roll was totally bored with the genre in his middle age and was now more comfortable singing non-challenging songs to please his aging audience. There's nothing at all wrong with that, as "The Voice" still could thrill when he was inspired, and there are a few moments on "Aloha From Hawaii" where he's going for broke and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

The second CD is a rehearsal of the complete show, where, to me, L seems more comfortable and the band sounds tighter. I don't know why.

After all, the live show was only being watched by an estimated 100 million people worldwide. That wouldn't make me nervous.

The King could still thrill his servants and deliver the mojo when inspired, and "Aloha From Hawaii" is a solid document showcasing the best Elvis of the mid-1970s.

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