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Various Artists
Blue Haze--Songs of Jimi Hendrix
Ruf Records

There have been many tributes to the late, great Jimi Hendrix. That is an undeniable fact. This newest tribute to the great American blues/rock statesman has a nice new spin. It is a collection of blues artists, with a few exceptions, presenting the songs of Hendrix from a distinctly blues point of view. A little bit fresh, really. The great thing about tribute albums is that many times you hear an artist you have never heard before, and perhaps it interests you enough to go out and learn more about that artist. I believe that there are a few such tracks on this tribute.

We begin with Eric Bibb’s rendition of "Angel", which is one of the most beautiful of Jimi’s songs. This is a very simple vocal and piano arrangement, filled with enough dynamics to keep it interesting, and a bit of background vocals here and there. I have never heard Eric Bibb before, but I would like to hear more of his work. You know that "Who Knows" is going to be good, due to the caliber of the guitar players presenting the song. There are great call and response vocals, and some fantastic guitar work, as would be expected. "I Don’t Live Today" by Eric Burdon is a little bit different than I would have expected, not being familiar with much of his material apart from The Animals and War. Eric seems to approach this song with as much fervor and intensity as Jimi did. I am glad that we have artists of this caliber who still choose to take part in the music industry. Next up is Buddy Miles, backed by Double Trouble, doing "Wind Cries Mary", and it sends shivers up my spine. Buddy is renowned as a tremendous blues player, and with the fantastic rhythm section of Double Trouble, there is no doubt of the power and beauty of this version. The guitar playing here is so true to the original, but so amazing in its own right. Jimi would be proud. Friend’n’Fellow presents their version of "Purple Haze"… I was set to be disappointed as this song began with acoustic guitar and drum machine. But the vocalist comes in and really adds some power to the song with her beautiful voice. From a personal level, I don’t really enjoy it, but it is very well done. I just think that this particular song exists for volume and electric guitar, and so it seems somewhat lacking to me. I would like to hear this group in a different venue, as I believe that they have a unique and wonderful sound. Walter Trout is all fine and well, but doing a cover of Jimi’s cover of the "Star Spangled Banner" is a little stupid to me. However, Trout redeems himself with a ripping version of "Hey Joe". It is true to the original Hendrix version, but Trout gets some wailing guitar tones. It is a very well done track, and the arrangement is very tight, much tighter than Jimi ever was with his band. The power of this song is preserved, and once again, I believe Jimi would be proud of this version of one of his finest songs. I recognize that Jimi Hendrix was very famous for his version of "All Along the Watchtower", but once again, it does not make much sense to me to hear someone cover a song that was a cover version anyway. But Taj Mahal has obviously assembled a fantastic band and does a great version of this classic song. The horn section is wonderful, and the groove is mellow with its own distinct character. I just think that this would be better suited to a Dylan tribute album. Michelle Shocked presents a very well put together version of "House Burning Down". Michelle shows a side of herself that is rarely seen, by presenting herself in a very bluesy, yet undoubtedly powerful way.

We move on to Eric Gales doing a fantastic version of "Voodoo Chile". Gales is pretty much the re-incarnation of Hendrix, and anyone familiar with his music, or that of the Gales Brothers, will agree with that sentiment. His guitar truly does justice to one of the most amazing Jimi songs here, even though the vocals lack a bit in both power and expressiveness. Bernard Allison presents a very delta-blues style acoustic rendition of "Hear My Train Comin". The guitar work is fantastic with the slide and picking style. What this track lacks in overall power compared to the original, it more than makes up for in its beauty and style. From the band Living Colour and his own solo material, Vernon Reid shows us that he is a very versatile artist, able to play the blues and slide guitar as well as shredding any heavier rock riffs. The vocalist, Michael Hill, is good, but initially this song makes me want to skip the track. Once the actual song kicks in it is a rewarding listen, and well worth the time spent to get to it. Reid has slowed the track down a bit and made it more traditional in its blues feel, but then launches into some very busy guitar work that does more to distract from the pleasantness of the rest of the track, but it is not distasteful by any measure. I have never heard of Ana Popovic before, but she presents an interesting version of "Belly Button Window". With its dueling electric and acoustic slide guitars, and her sultry voice, Popovic has recorded a version of a song that is full of an aching not often found in modern blues records. It is a very emotional and brilliant track. Alvin "Youngblood" Hart gives us a very hopping version of "Remember", not a huge departure from the original, but very nicely played out. There is some fantastic organ playing, and some great guitar solos. Aynsley Lister provides a good portion of the beauty to this record with his wonderful version of "Little Wing". It is played perfectly (better than Stevie Ray played it) and the vocals are more prominent than on any other version I have previously heard. This version of "Little Wing" comes across as very heartfelt, not only in the playing but the singing as well. The incidental noises in the recording make me believe that Lister was truly playing to his fullest potential on this tribute to a masterful songwriter and guitar player. Eric Burdon once more gives us a treat with his skewed version of "Third Stone From The Sun", which he mixes in with his own song, entitled "The Story Of Life." It is an interesting mix of poetry and musicianship that we are presented with here. Burdon wrote the liner notes for this record, and they are interesting, if short, from his perspective of actually being an acquaintance of Jimi. I think it is a great tribute that he was so involved in this project.

The thing most impressive to me about this tribute record is that many of the songs retain a good bit of the power that they had when Jimi was performing them. That is not an easy task to accomplish. Jimi Hendrix was all about the power of his music, and the vibe, and the animal spirit of rock and roll… and I believe that this record has captured a good bit of that spirit.

-David DeVoe

Track Listing:

  1. Angel – Eric Bibb
  2. Who Knows – Walter Trout, Papa Chubby and Jimmy Thackery
  3. I Don’t Live Today – Eric Burdon
  4. The Wind Cries Mary – Buddy Miles and Double Trouble
  5. Purple Haze – Friend’n’Fellow
  6. Star Spangled Banner – Walter Trout & The Free Radicals
  7. Hey Joe - Walter Trout & The Free Radicals
  8. All Along The Watchtower – Taj Mahal & The Hula Blues Band
  9. House Burning Down – Michelle Shocked
  10. Voodoo Chile – Eric Gales & Trudy Lynn
  11. Hear My Train Comin’ – Bernard Allison
  12. Red House – Vernon Reid & Michelle hill
  13. Belly Button Window – Ana Popovic
  14. Remember – Alvin "Youngblood" Hart
  15. Little Wing – Aynsley Lister
  16. Third Stone From the Sun/The Story of Life – Eric Burdon

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