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Jimi Hendrix - Axis: Bold as Love CD (album) cover

AXIS: BOLD AS LOVE

Jimi Hendrix

 

Proto-Prog

3.90 | 194 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Following the life-changing, personal mind explosion that was "Are You Experienced" in mid '67 I simply could not get enough of Hendrix. I was a bug-eyed, slobbering addict. I had a Jones for Jimi. I even let myself be suckered into buying an LP by some unknown named Curtis Knight because the cover said "featuring Jimi Hendrix." It was a blatantly opportunistic scam. While my hero may have been in the backup band, he had about as much to do with the music as the janitor who cleaned up the studio after the session. While that taught me a valuable lesson about the seedy side of capitalism it had no effect on my unquenchable thirst for anything Hendrix so, by the time the stateside version of "Axis: Bold as Love" was released in January '68, I was pacing outside my local record shop like a caged puma when they opened for the day, cash in fist. While it didn't have the drastic, dramatic impact on my consciousness that the debut had (in retrospect, few things in my life did), it met my rock & roll requirements and lofty expectations and I ended up wearing the grooves out of the vinyl nonetheless. To be completely honest, it hasn't held up to scrutiny over the 40+ years since its release even remotely as well as its predecessor has. It's truly yet another case of the sophomore jinx at work.

But first I must breach the subject of the Brontosaurus in the room that is the ostentatious and amazingly garish cover art. It stands as the pinnacle of the iniquity that is miscommunication for all eternity to come. I can only imagine the awkward scene that unfolded when Track Records' Boss Hogg confronted the art department's head honcho after the project had long since gone to press.

Fat Cat: "Great Caesar's ghost, what the hell is THIS?" Art guy: "Wha..? You said Jimi had Indian blood in him." Fat Cat: "You lug nut! Does he LOOK like he's from New Delhi?" Art guy: "Oh! You meant THOSE Indians? Ooops. My bad."

Thus this set of songs is branded forevermore with an undeniably colorful, eye-catching veneer that's about as appropriate as a rendering of Jim Morrison sporting the papal tiara while fronting the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Human error on this scale borders on the sublime.

On to the music. You know how you look back on a TV sci-fi program from your youth that you thought was the nazz at the time but now it's just silly? That's the album's opening sequence, "EXP," in a nutshell. Hendrix's short radio play was neat-o to my then 18-year-old, unjaded ears but other than Jimi's wild feedback frenzy (that proved that my record player was, indeed, a stereo device) the whole thing is shamefully dated even if it was, after all, the sixties. "Up From the Skies" follows and to say his legion of fans were collectively caught off-guard is putting it mildly. We were expecting (and wanting) his fiery lightning to strike and burn into our skulls immediately but what we got was a smooth saunter through Jazzville where Hendrix's coy wah-wah guitar and Mitch Mitchell's whispering brush strokes made us reluctantly stop and consider that maybe we'd underestimated the versatility of these dudes.

The aggressive introductory barrage that starts "Spanish Castle Magic" was more in the fashion of what we craved to hear. It has a very prog progression, for sure, but that doesn't necessarily make it good. The song is not melodic at all. It's as if he wrote the guitar parts first and then struggled to devise vocal lines that would fit over them. There's just something essential missing and there lies the rub. Unlike the professional tone they achieved on their debut, this record has all the appearances of being slapped together in a hurry to meet a deadline, much to its detriment. However the next tune, "Wait Until Tomorrow," is as slick and tight a track as they come so go figure. Jimi's slinky guitarisms are on full display as he glides effortlessly over the frets and Mitchell's suitably wicked drum fills are delightful and fun. Hendrix's humorous story about a botched elopement is engaging as he delivers clever lines like "do I see a silhouette/of someone pointing something from a tree?/click, bang!/what a hang/your daddy just shot poor me."

"Ain't No Telling" is a penned-on-the-fly, straight-ahead steamroller that doesn't even pretend to disguise Jimi's James Brown hot soul roots for a solitary second. A few well-placed kicks and accents help keep the song from becoming too predictable. Next up is the impeccable "Little Wing," featuring Hendrix's timeless and brilliantly executed preamble to what may be his most distinctive composition. The unexpected addition of a glockenspiel adds just the right touch of magic to words like "she's walking through the clouds/with a circus mind that's running wild/butterflies and Zebras/moonbeams and fairy tales/that's all she ever thinks about/riding with the wind." For a guy not known for his literary acumen, that's mighty poetic stuff. "If 6 Was 9" stands in sharp contrast to that tune's beauty, with Jimi's muscle-bound Strat throwing jabs to your gut like a heavyweight champ who's got you on the ropes. The complex jazz chords on the chorus are inspired, Noel Redding speed-walks his bass around the lead like a man possessed, Mitch's closed rolls are immaculate and Hendrix's unadorned, bare vocals make it sound like he's standing beside you. Here the creep factor is almost overwhelming as he orates prophetically "I'm the one who's got to die when it's time for me to die/so let me live my life the way I want to." The extended ending is psychedelic and fanciful as all get out with Jimi flaying away on a recorder like a paranoid Toucan tripping on LSD while trying to remember how to fly. It's phenomenally prog.

"You Got Me Floating" isn't bad for the pop rocker it was obviously intended to be but don't expect any surprises along the way. On "Castles Made of Sand" we get another dose of Hendrix's delicate and tasty guitar work but the looseness of the underlying track makes it feel horribly rushed until they get to the slower reprise that arrives too late to save it. The brief backwards guitar solo is definitely worth dropping in for, though. Noel's weak entry, "She's So Fine," only exacerbates his dearth of talent outside of being a bassist. Its only saving grace is that it runs by quickly. The proggy "One Rainy Wish" follows and here Jimi's intricate guitar lines and the song's dynamic arrangement make this rock & roll ballad work better than it should. Mitchell's deft handling of the two time signatures and his jazzy inflections add an impressive dimension to the tune.

The clumsy "Little Miss Lover" has filler-culled-from-a-jam-session written all over it but it also has Hendrix's unmistakable, sexual predator charisma dripping freely from it so it's hard to ignore. Which brings you to the glorious finale, "Axis: Bold as Love." Jimi's R&B heritage dominates the early going on this gem but his one-of-a-kind guitar flashes that float like graceful ballerinas dancing across a stage make it shine like the sun. After Hendrix sings, bestowing all the colors of the rainbow with human traits, Mitchell's flanged drums lead you into a shimmering fantasy land of bright pastels streaked with fire as sounds pan from right to left and around your head constantly. Jimi cuts loose with guitar spasms that seem to come from another part of the universe where music is the only form of intelligent life that exists. It's a spectacularly passionate performance from one of the all-time masters.

It's important to note that the bulk of the album was recorded before "Are You Experienced" even hit the racks in America so the stressful pressure to get it done yesterday was less-than-conducive to achieving artistic perfection. They didn't even know if what they'd been producing would appeal to the fickle populace in the USA at all yet their label was already impatiently demanding that they finish their 2nd LP! In other words, go easy on this album and apply a generous amount of leniency when appraising its merits. It didn't jump up to #3 on the charts for nothing and, while it may be the plain Jane middle child of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, it contains multiple great moments to savor and is a must-have for every JH fan. 3.4 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |

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