It’s about time we all started believing in ghosts. In the posthumous release of Valleys of Neptune, the phantom of Jimi Hendrix has entered the airwaves to show that forty years on, he still deserves one of the highest thrones in the pantheon of rock deities. With twelve previously unreleased recordings — mostly from 1969 — the original Experience line-up has catapulted into the 21st century to prove that their grooves, their virtuosity and their innovation are still unparalleled. Hearing Valleys of Neptune is not just an exercise in nostalgia. It is also a new generation’s chance to be blown away by the direct connection Hendrix’s heart has with his fret board, the swampy, ever-rolling flurry of sounds that explode from Mitch Mitchell’s kit, and the right-in-the-pocket bass licks of Noel Redding. It is a chance for those who weren’t around to appreciate the brilliance of a release like Electric Ladyland to take a new journey through space with Hendrix and his friends.
Fans will certainly recognize some of these tracks, but the new versions are worth many, many a listen. “Hear My Train A Comin” takes on new dynamics, a slightly different groove, but the same longing to close your eyes and kiss the sky. The behemoth eight-minute version of “Red House” sounds like a brand new blues, but with a sense of familiarity that conjures vivid images of a tie-dyed rock demigod and his band creating an all-consuming storm of sound. But the tracks that only a handful of bootleg-collectors might have, like the trip-out party of the album’s title track are what make this album. The three-minute blues sprint, “Mr. Bad Luck,” straddles the line between head-bobbing simplicity and jaw-dropping virtuosity in a way that only The Jimi Hendrix Experience can do, and the up-tempo, ripping cover of Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love” will to many ears sound far better than the original. It’s a little depressing in terms of what this says for the present of music compared to the past, but this ghostly release may very well be the best album of 2010 so far.