Hendrix’s unfinished masterpiece is given a fancy remake
The early to mid ‘90s was a good year for Jimi Hendrix. His first three albums had been properly remastered for the first time, while CDs such as Hendrix: Blues and Woodstock (both from 1994) at last gave more serious fans the chance to hear many rare and previously unheard performances. But it didn’t end there. In 1995, Voodoo Soup was released; an attempt by controversial producer Alan Douglas to recreate the closest approximation possible to the album Hendrix had been working towards before he died. And while the end result generated a fair amount of mixed criticism – to Douglas’ defence, he did try to bring Eddie Kramer and Mitch Mitchell into the picture, asking for their input and ideas as to how Jimi’s final recordings ought to be presented.
Unfortunately (and not surprisingly), it didn’t work, with Kramer pulling out due to creative differences, and Mitch feeling as though he was not up to the task of overdubbing new drum parts on some tracks. Meaning that it was ultimately up to Douglas to make the final decision as to what songs would find their way onto to the record.
Now, regardless of what some have said or written, Voodoo Soup represented good value for money when it first appeared. Seven tracks off 1971’s Cry Of Love were retained, along with seven additional recordings taken from Rainbow Bridge (1972), War Heroes (1973) and the notorious Crash Landing (1975). The 20-bit remastering also helped, making it one of the best sounding Hendrix CDs yet released. But it was not without controversy. Kramer and Hendrix’s original mixes were replaced, while Bruce Gary, drummer from The Knack, was brought in to overdub new drum parts on two tracks, something which annoyed a lot of fans, and arguably for good reason.
Yet for all the vehement criticisms over the years, there are some positives, namely in the previously unreleased instrumental “New Rising Sun,” a gorgeous slice of experimental sci-fi that would not have seemed out of place on the soundtrack of a movie. This is followed by the extremely personal “Belly Button Window,” one of Jimi’s final studio recordings that here, thanks to a slight remix, sounds totally fresh and modern.
“Stepping Stone” and “Room Full Of Mirrors,” despite new drum parts, have an almost re-energised feel to them, so too Band Of Gypsys chestnut “Ezy Ryder,” during which Hendrix’s multiple guitars are finally given space to breathe (not that the original mix is terrible, it’s just a little murky). Other songs such as “Night Bird Flying” and “Drifting” also benefit from the digital restoration, like wiping away the dust and dirt from the surface of an old masterwork. However “Freedom” and “Midnight” come across as flat and listless, like comparing full strength to light.
Though such shortcomings are more than compensated for by the inclusion of “Message To Love,” Jimi’s funk-rock masterpiece; the proto-metal of “Peace In Mississippi” (at last liberated from posthumous overdubs made back in the ‘70s), and “Pali Gap,” a superb instrumental recorded at Electric Lady Studios in 1970.
The album came with detailed liner notes, outlining each track, plus a decent selection of photographs, making Voodoo Soup one of the better compilations. Hendrix scholar Charles Shaar Murray spoke highly, describing it as “sounding more authentically Jimian than ever.” And while many older fans remained frothing at the mouth, at least an attempt was made to shed new light on an old subject.
Naturally the CD is no longer in print, having been usurped by 1997’s First Rays Of The New Rising Sun, which, in all honesty, is a far closer representation of what Jimi may or may not have intended. Regardless, Voodoo Soup is what it is, and nowhere near as horrible as some would have you think. And, given its notoriety, a copy can be bought for next to nix.