Recordings

As for that new stuff, anyone with a soft spot for late-period Conway Twitty (without the Branson, Mo., synthesizer plinking, that is) should check out last year's outstanding hit "That's as Close as I'll Get to Loving You" from the Tool Box album. Next, consider the agonizingly resigned "If Only Your Eyes Could Lie." Anyone believing Travis Tritt holds the monopoly on rough, manly heartbreak must now think again.

-- Cath Carroll

The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Are You Experienced?
Axis: Bold as Love
Electric Ladyland
First Rays of the New Rising Sun
(MCA)

Go to any thorough music resource Website, like, say, the Miller Freeman All-Music Guide at www.allmusic.com/amg/music_root.html. (If you can't be bothered with the Infobahn, more power to you, and crack open the book version.) Look up Jimi Hendrix: solo, Experience, Band of Gypsies, Plays w/ Little Richard, Coughs in the Background at Leeds, whatever. Now scroll down through the list of originals, posthumous recordings, compilations, outtakes, concerts, rarities, obscurities, conjecture, ephemera, eructations, dry heaves. And keep scrolling. Feel your eyeballs sweat. Continue scrolling. The simple downward velocity through the list will reduce your visual cortex to vertigo and applesauce. Jimi Hendrix -- was there ever an artist so thoroughly over-, ever-, Yber-, omnidocumented?

Yes, reissuemania -- spurred on by the bucks wide-eyed consumers eject at anyone who rereleases anything -- is everywhere these days, but nowhere has this scavenging upon a massive corpse become more ridiculous than with Hendrix. (Thus far, anyway -- we're only beginning to count Jerry Garcia's various necrophagia. Taste the Cherry, anybody?) Why more Hendrix now? Seems Hendrix's relatives, in the form of the Experience Hendrix company, have finally secured the rights to the catalog, meaning they've finally got a chance to earn a little money off of their flesh-and-blood. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this. Hendrix monies might as well go to people who share some of his genetic structure, and not just a record company, Alan Douglas (hard-working excavator of the Hendrix archives up till now), or everyone else who'd had legal claims to Hendrix, the Property. Not really knowing, or caring, what Hendrix would have thought of his family managing his interests, I guess I'm glad they finally got the rights.

We're supposed to think these reissues have their place. Their promoters claim that they're the first ones remastered off the original tapes. Says reissue co-producer John McDermott, "We wanted to bring the music back as close as possible to the way Jimi intended it." Hear this during a seance, John? And I suppose that recompiling various tunes from scattered postmortem releases like War Heroes, The Cry of Love, and Rainbow Bridge into their (allegedly) originally intended package, First Rays of the New Rising Sun, might have some merit.

But, folks, it's all been done. Only four years ago there was a "digitally remastered" compilation, Ultimate Experience, reissuing the first three (and only good) Hendrix albums. Partisans of the new reissues say these older ones came from inferior sources. Do these sound markedly different from those? Only the publicists, or an audiophile with bionic hearing, could tell you. The carrion birds have long since landed and stuffed full their gizzards. If it's time for the family to come in and lap up the marrow, fine. What can I tell you? The Experience albums are great, suffused with excellent riffs, songs, and special effects; the Rising Sun material cools toward luke. But unless you're under the age of 15 or a microcephalite, you knew that, and already own the albums. To the rest, I guess, buy these versions, and give the Hendrix family the crumbs left from the posthumous pie.

-- Michael Batty

The Notorious B.I.G.
Life After Death ... Till Death
Do Us Part
(Bad Boy/Arista)

Although no one was stupid enough to say it in so many words, many members of the music press were happy to see the Notorious B.I.G. (aka Biggie Smalls) assassinated. Not that they were cheering the senseless killing of a talented young man, but his death -- especially coming so soon after the equally mindless murder of Tupac Shakur -- changed the focus of discussion about hip hop. Rather than an analysis of contemporary urban realities, it became a referendum on appropriate conduct for young black men. Ten years after Public Enemy's Yo! Bum Rush the Show made hip hop into a forum for discourse on class conflict within the black community and on opposition to governmental policy, a few gunshots reduced rappers from insightful commentators to ghetto caricatures. Anyone who seriously thinks that a rivalry between East Coast and West Coast rappers caused Biggie's death should run for cover at the mention of Blur and Oasis.

The renewed blasts of distortion in the press are especially distressing as they apply to the life and work of a complex man. Smalls was the archetypal rapper, smart enough to survive on the streets and to recognize and escape its narrow prerogatives. In that manner, he was an update on the kind of aesthete-punk that '70s rock crit Ellen Willis used to characterize Lou Reed's work with the Velvets. On his two albums, he tells many crude stories of life on the street without romanticizing them, but he also tells stories of aspiration. He is one of the few rappers who "blew up" (platinum sales figures) without losing any street credibility among denizens of the thriving hip-hop underground.

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