When it comes to tribute albums dedicated to the late Jimi Hendrix, one could be forgiven for losing count. Hardly a year goes by without someone, whether animal or vegetable, wanting to have a crack at the great guitarist’s legacy. Such is the man’s influence and reputation, more than forty years after his death, that many musicians both young and old are eager to pay homage.
Power of Soul: A Tribute To Jimi Hendrix does indeed consist of a stellar cast of musical luminaries, from those who knew the guitarist (Eric Clapton, John McLaughlin, Santana), to those who were still in High School. Compiled under the supervision of the official Hendrix family, what the listener gets is a wide selection of Jimi’s music from an eclectic mix of musicians, which is probably the way it should be, considering how wide-ranging Hendrix’s own influences were in the first place.
Following a brief recording by James “Al” Hendrix, Jimi’s father, called “Gratitude,” we get down to business with Musiq’s interpretation of “Are You Experienced?” who take a unique approach in employing two turntables to substitute for guitars, although they don’t really do anything with it, nor add to the majesty of the original. And that’s often the problem with tributes. Take Santana’s version of “Spanish Castle Magic,” with Cory Glover on vocals, Stanley Clarke (bass) and Tony Williams (drums) as a case in point – sure it’s an exciting performance, but the only one who could enlighten us mere mortals was Hendrix himself, so therefore what’s the point.
The late great Prince is the exception, who turns Jimi’s blues classic “Red House” (here titled “Purple House”) into something truly magic, adding his own spice and personality. “The Wind Cries Mary,” with Sting and John McLaughlin, was previously on “In From The Storm,” so who knows why it was recycled for this release. Earth, Wind & Fire make an attempt at reinterpreting “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return),” giving it a funky, soulful edge, albeit highly sanitized in the process. Bootsy Collins and George Clinton are right in their element on “Power of Soul,” adding a few lyrics of their own, transforming this funk-rock number into a modern day party tune.
Eric Clapton’s version of “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” lacks much of the urgency of the original, except towards the end, where he breaks loose with a fiery guitar solo, like the Eric of old. Lenny Kravitz contributes a soulful “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland),” although it’s hard to know what to make of Devoted Spirits’ rendition of “Who Knows,” with its electronic keyboards and spandex production. Better is Robert Randolph & The Family Band’s run through of “Purple Haze,” although despite the impassioned playing, it still falls way short of the maestro himself.
Chaka Khan turn “Little Wing” into a PMT-fest, while Sounds Of Blackness give “Castles Made of Sand” an African update, including some superb wah wah guitar by Kenny Olson. Blues stalwart Eric Gales’ reading of “May This Be Love” is the best on the album, imbuing the tune with a definite honesty and earnestness which I’m sure Jimi himself would have appreciated. Cee Lo Green’s adaptation of “Foxy Lady” could be something off a ‘70s blaxploitation movie, despite the impressive guitar chops on display, before John Lee Hooker brings things down to earth with an unpretentious “Red House,” in the only way he can.
The album ends with a nail biting version of Little Wing/Third Stone From The Sun” by Stevie Ray Vaughan, who literally pulls out all the stops, channelling Hendrix in a way few if any other guitarists were ever capable of. Taken from a live performance, it is raw and utterly in the listener’s face, just the way it ought to be. If there was one instrumentalist who understood Jimi, it was Stevie, who seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to conjuring the master.
So what is one to make of all this? There is just enough, and I mean just enough to justify its existence in your CD collection. Most of what’s on here the listener won’t need to hear more than once, which doesn’t exactly recommend it. However were it not for Hooker, Vaughan and Prince, not to mention Eric Gales, this album would probably be a complete waste of time. Because at the end of the day, whether it be Miles Davis, B.B King, Elvis Presley, or James Brown, Jimi Hendrix was a freak of nature, the likes of which the world will never hear again.