It is often easy to forget that there was indeed more than just one member of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Perhaps it is a pity that Hendrix has eclipsed the formidable talent of his rhythm section, in terms of their fame and acclaim. Then again, the fact Hendrix the guitarist and vocalist managed to do so in spite of the greatness of Noel Redding (bass) and Mitch Mitchell (drums) could well be a testament to his own genius. Many have followed in Hendrix's footsteps but, arguably, few have had both the versatility and the significance of Hendrix in the realm of music, and not only in rock but in general. But surely Hendrix's rhythm section were not just there to add footnotes. Furthermore, the song-writing and singing on display does more than just make up the numbers (check out the pop-rock gem, 'Stone Free'). Even the production - on, say, the title track somehow became a voice itself, wrestling for recognition amid the many strands of this awesome tapestry.
Few drummers at the time in the world of rock rivalled Mitchell, and songs like 'Foxy Lady', despite excelling in general, would suffer without his input. Similar praise can be given regarding to the value of Redding's contribution on the likes of 'Purple Haze'. Then there are songs like the monumental single 'Hey Joe' on which the collective shine as one, but there are moments of nuance rather than a constant sameness that mean the song has many layers and different colours to it, unlike, say, the relentless and tiresome drum track on 'Manic Depression'.
Although the debut album by the group is not perfect - see, for another example, the sprawling, tedious-at-times 'Third Stone From The Sun' - 1967's Are You Experienced? is a brilliant introduction to those seeking to understand why the guitarist's stature granted by fans, players and historians is so grand. It is also a superb gateway to those experiencing the many shades of rock and rhythm-and-blues for the first time, a cultural landmark that was drawn from, or influenced in future, styles such as jazz, Indian-rock fusion, dub, grunge, metal and folk.
The album is so many things that it is easy to lose sight of the fact that it could still have been so much else - darker, heavier, better or far worse. However, a collection of songs delivered skilfully and with something approaching that elusive ideal of 'originality', Are You Experienced? is a largely captivating brew shot throughout with magical fire that is counterbalanced and complimented by a sometimes-poignant beauty.
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