Listen closely enough to Both Sides of the Sky, the third Jimi Hendrix collection released this decade, and you may hear the bottom of a barrel being scraped. The majority of these recordings date from the two years after the release of 1968’s Electric Ladyland, a creatively fertile but relatively aimless period for Hendrix, during which he recorded much but completed little. While most of the individual studio takes collected here are new, many of the songs will be familiar to all but the most casual Hendrix fan, including alternate but not radically different versions of previously anthologized outtakes like “Lover Man,” “(Sweet) Angel,” and “Hear My Train a Comin’.”
A few tracks stretch the definition of unreleased “Hendrix” material: “$20 Bill” and a version of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” both feature Stephen Stills on lead vocals, with Hendrix sitting in on guitar and, for the latter, also bass. A more logical inclusion is “Georgia Blues,” a jam featuring Lonnie Youngblood, with whom Hendrix used to play as part of the backing band for Curtis Knight and the Squires. There’s an interesting symmetry in hearing Hendrix play the sideman again, especially so close to the end of his meteoric solo career, but the workmanlike 12-bar blues he plays here is merely pleasant.
What makes this compilation worthwhile is the simple fact that justifies its existence in the first place: Technically, this is previously unheard Jimi Hendrix music. And while none of it is of the caliber of the music he released in his lifetime, the album includes material from some of the last studio sessions by the Experience and the earliest by Hendrix’s final outfit, Band of Gypsys, offering a glimpse at a transitional phase in his work. There are even a few hidden gems: The spooky January 1970 recording of “Send My Love to Linda” captures Hendrix playing a skeletal, almost Kurt Cobain-esque minor-key riff before exploding into his more customary pyrotechnics. Almost 50 years after Hendrix’s death, his indelible guitar tone remains a sublime pleasure.