Ahh, a surprise – more Hendrix in the studio. Of late a lot of in-concert Hendrix has surfaced; the full-side each on the Woodstock sets, the Isle of Wight performance on Columbia's Rock Festivals set, the in-concert movie of Hendrix at Berkeley, as well as an English in-concert film with an accompanying soundtrack LP.
But Hendrix on stage and Hendrix in the studio are two animals of pretty divergent cellular structure. His later concerts involved a lot of extended instrumental jamming, as well as demonstrating his total mastery not only of the guitar, but of all its electronic accomplices like wah-wah pedals, fuzz tones, and reverb amps – he was able to recreate on stage most of the effects that were born in the studio. His knowledge of the electronic technology was amazing, and he utilized it to stretch the limits of sound experience – a tape-mixing console would definitely have to be listed as one of the instruments he was proficient on. He wasn't into effect for gimmick value alone – it was always a part of a larger tapestry, and many of the innovations he made early use of (like track-panning, where the guitar swoops back and forth from channel to channel) are now standard procedure in album mixing. So, a Hendrix studio album showcases more than just his music alone – it's his music in a special electronic frame, custom cut to size.
But, Rainbow Bridge (Reprise MS2040) is billed as a "sound track album," so the question arises, what is a sound track? Is it an aural footpath? A mere vibration trail? Or the coalesced imaginings of an astral projectionist? In most cases, sound track albums seem designed as take-home souvenirs of a media experience, relying on deja-vu and memory flashes to recreate visceral emotions in the privacy of your head; it serves as a psychic tap, reopening emotions planted by the original cinematic experience.
With this album, that's not how it is, but just in case you care, here's where you can drive the first piton in your attempt on the summit of the understanding of the place of this album in the cosmic scheme of things; it's the music heard in a movie that you may never ever see.
Rainbow Bridge has been billed as a "spiritual candy store" – it's a cinema verite-styled exploration of aspects of one woman's metaphysical searchings – which include scenes at the Rainbow Bridge Occult Center in Maui, as well as a Hendrix concert on the side of a volcano. Apparently, aside from the concert, Hendrix appears only briefly in the flick, doing a surreal rap, parts of which are reprinted with a high degree of illegibility on the inside of the jacket. At last report the film had been only shown once in England (reviewers were puzzled, to say the least), and as yet has no distributor – so it may not be seen for a long, long time. But that's cool, the album exists as an entity all by itself. My suggestion would be to listen to it and then make up your own movie – it'll probably be a lot more relevant to what you're up to anyway.
The album opens with "Dolly Dagger," a track that was billed as the next Hendrix single at the time of his death (it is now indeed a single). It's based on a typical Hendrix rhythm riff and sawtooth rising chorus – "She's so heavy she'll make you stagger . . . she drinks her blood from the jagged edge " – a tale of a warp-nine chick told with drive and morse-code pulsing guitar lines – what a groove this would be on the highway at 3 AM! "Earth Blues" features a chorus that includes the Ronettes (the Ronettes?) – they sing a descending line of "Love, love, love" as Hendrix weaves a spacy soul version of a "we-gotta-get-it-together" lyric – this has the sound of Electric Church music that Hendrix spoke of trying to build.
"Pali Gap" is a studio cut, despite the title – it features Hendrix's one-time mentor Juma Edwards on percussion. (Backing throughout the album is mostly just bass and drums, Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell respectively.) This is an instrumental that reflects the jazz-like explorations that Hendrix was getting into for awhile, when he was in Woodstock – it was cut July 1st, 1970, along with two other tracks included here. It flows in waves, rippling like wine running slowly down dusk-lit marble stones.
The next track, "Room Full Of Mirrors," was written around the time of Hendrix's Toronto bust and features Buddy Miles on drums. The overdubbed guitars swoop into glass-edged regions as Hendrix sings "I used to live in a room full of mirrors, now the whole world is there for me to see." The first side ends with a really majestic version of the "Star Spangled Banner." In concert this became a vehicle for commentary, as Hendrix's guitar created the sounds of sirens, bombs and guns (in the Berkeley movie his performance is inter-cut with shots of Berkeley riots). This is an early version, utilizing only guitars, overdubbed in three or four layers. It was cut in March, 1969, and though there is anger and chaos there, it hadn't yet become rage – this version is almost stately, you can't help but soar a bit with it, no matter what connotations the melody has placed on you.
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