Friday, August 30, 2013

82. Axis Bold as Love (1968) Jimi Hendrix Experience

1. EXP
2. Up from the Skies
3. Spanish Castle Magic
4. Wait Until Tomorrow
5. Ain't No Telling
6. Little Wing
7. If 6 Was 9
8. You Got Me Floating
9. Castles Made of Sand
10. She's So Fine
11. One Rainy Wish
12. Little Miss Lover
13. Bold as Love

Jimi Hendrix is often the first name on anyone's lips when asked to name great guitarists. Even my own parents (who are my yardstick for popular culture ignorance) could tell you what instrument the great man played. He's idolised as an innovator, technical master and soulful lover of rock's most potent musical creation device. But while we're admiring his licks, chords and solos we should make sure his voice and songwriting abilities aren't overlooked and ignored. Jimi could write a tune and he could hold one as well.

Two of his three skills are clearly in evidence on Axis: Bold as love. His guitar work is perfect as he throws out riffs and breaks and generally lays down the blueprint for future guitarists to follow. His voice is also in fine form and rocks mightily. He gives a soulful rendering of every tune and can even add passion and meaning to his own lyrics (which are never the highpoint of a Hendrix album). The one area in which Axis is let down slightly is in the songwriting department. 

Hendrix had only just finished his first album when his record label were clamouring for the second that he owed them in order to fulfil the terms of his contract. They were demanding a new disc of material while Hendrix was busy playing shows and promoting the previous one. While he could write a great song they didn't come as naturally as they did to other artists. Hendrix needed some time to write material but the label (and life itself, tragically) didn't give him a lot of time. 

Consequently there's much on Axis that sounds rushed and half-hearted compared to the previous album which is almost wall to wall hits. EXP, Up from the Skies, Aint no Telling, You Got me Floating, One Rainy Wish and the Noel Redding penned She's So Fine wouldn't have been considered worthy of appearing on Are You Experienced and If 6 was 9 hangs around for twice as long as it needs to in a fairly obvious attempt at padding. Almost half the album's running time feels like filler material.

Thankfully the other half of the album is good enough to prop up the lesser tracks. Little Wing is a beautiful little track which is often covered and to my mind ruined. I prefer it as a small and perfect little gem of track that lasts 150 seconds instead of the massive, bloated guitar behemoth that most cover versions turn it into when they quadruple the running length but exponentially decrease the interest level. Castles Made of Sand is another great ballad slightly marred by Hendrix's insistence on experimenting in the studio (recording a guitar solo and playing it backwards creates an interesting effect. Interesting but not actually as pleasing as hearing the original solo itself). 

Spanish Castle Magic is the album's rockiest number and shows off Hendrix at his axe-wielding best. It also highlights the talents of Redding and Mitchell who deserve a lot more credit than they usually get. This isn't a Jimi Hendrix album, it's an album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the rest of the Experience deserve credit for being a rock solid rhythm section who could add colour and texture to any song they touched. Mitchell was a magnificent drummer and Redding was a great bass player even if neither of them could write much of a tune and they weren't the greatest backing vocalists walking the planet at the time. 

There's a lot to love on Axis but you can't help but wonder how much better if would have been if Hendrix had enjoyed more time to write some stronger songs. Or even if he'd ditched the filler and included some covers instead. His version of All Along The Watchtower is still the definitive rendition, how cool would it be if he'd gone into the studio and worked up a good cover of some other Dylan songs. Or some Beatles? Or Stones? I'd much rather hear his version of Paint it Black, Day Tripper or Highway 61 Revisited than She's So Fine. I know that I've had Axis in my music collection for years but don't pull it out nearly as often as Hendrix: Blues an album of his collected blues covers that was released after his death and moves me more than Axis does.  But then even on a bad song Hendrix still brings his voice and his guitar which means there's something to love on every track.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Received the CD within just a few days of ordering it. Have not had a chance to listen to it yet as my player quit the day the CD arrived. As I'm a Hendrix fan, I'm looking forward to listening to it soon."

-It's five star reviews like this that make amazon's star rating meaningless. This "Hendrix fan" (who hasn't heard a third of the man's studio albums) felt the need to give this five stars despite only having the cover art for inspiration.

So... can anyone tell me what the hell the title actually means? Let me know below. 

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