Some grousing from fans greets most posthumous Jimi Hendrix studio releases. And fair enough: Hendrix can’t offer his opinion anymore, and between past dubious product (i.e., the heavily overdubbed Crash Landing) and ongoing estate squabbles, there’s been plenty of sketchy business over the years. But on Valleys of Neptune — a collection of more-or-less previously unreleased tracks recorded with the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1969, assembled by the archivists at Legacy and the Hendrix estate — the music is seething, gorgeous, alive.
Unreleased doesn’t necessarily mean unfamiliar. “Stone Free,” the opener, remakes one of Hendrix’s earliest recordings, gaining in expansive arranging what it loses in garage-band immediacy (WTF, no cowbell?!). Ditto for a raging “Fire,” featuring a guitarist somehow even more fluidly dazzling than he was on the original, even if he no longer asks Rover to move over. There’s a wildly jammed, slightly showoff-y instrumental of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” and a deliciously funky take on Elmore James’ “Bleeding Heart.” For lay Hendrix fans, however, the biggest treat will be bright, revelatory mixes of tracks known mainly to connoisseurs: The lush, tuneful space travelogue of the title track; the snarling, horny blues stomp “Ships Passing Through the Night,” with its lava-spitting outro; the breakneck instrumental rocker “Lullaby for the Summer.” Are these tracks “finished” as Hendrix would’ve intended? Probably not. But as a glimpse of the guitarist extending his reach beyond the Experience trio, it’s thrilling.