Over the years, two of the fastest growing sub-sections of my ever-burgeoning CD collection are pop Christmas albums and tribute discs. I am unabashed in my appreciation of both of these “genres” in all of their often ragged glory.
When it comes to tribute albums they are almost always a mixed bag filled with too many slavish, pale imitations of the original tunes. But sometimes a bit of magic happens and a tribute becomes just that. That is, tribute to (instead of a pointless copy of) the original artist’s work with an inspired and (hopefully) pleasing twist (my feeling about any cover is that if you’re not going to try to bring something new to the table why bother doing it all?)
Jimi Hendrix has been the subject of a fair number of tribute albums…in fact this disc is, in a roundabout way, a sequel to 1993’s sometimes-interesting Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix (the Hendrix family used the proceeds from that disc to establish a scholarship fund…this disc, compiled under the auspices of the family, will benefit the same fund.)
Hendrix was, of course, a spectacularly unique artist and so finding new colors in his songs will prove difficult. Musiq’s tepid cover of “Are You Experienced?” which opens this collection (following a brief shout out from Henrix’s dad Al) didn’t bode well for the rest of the disc.
But things pick up after that…and, this being a Hendrix tribute, they do so when the guitars soar and shine.
Santana’s version of “Spanish Castle Magic” is hampered by Corey Glover’s mannered vocals but still manages to soar thanks to Carlos Santana’s shimmering fretwork. Prince (aided and abetted by bassist Larry Graham) slips comfortably into blues shoes with “Purple House” (“Red House” renamed for no good reason that I can tell) while guitarist John McLaughlin brings a sweet intensity to Sting’s cover of “The Wind Cries Mary”.
Earth, Wind & Fire are in surprisingly strong form with a funky “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”. A choral version of “Castles Made of Sand” by Sounds of Blackness is an interesting, if not completely successful, experiment. Bootsy Collins with George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars are surprisingly tame on the title tune as is Eric Clapton on “Burning of the Lamp” (Clapton’s fiery version of Stone Free’s title track was one of the highlights of that disc.)
Chaka Khan and Kid Rock’s guitarist Kenny Olson bring a soulful intensity to their take on “Little Wing” while Robert Randolph’s stellar slide guitar enlivens an otherwise unremarkable “Purple Haze” (which the Cure covered to more interesting effect on Stone Free.)
There’s some nimble playing on Eric Gales’ “May This Be Love” that almost, but not quite, overcomes his pedestrian vocals. Cee-Lo takes a game stab at “Foxey Lady” but it’s too much of a copy of the original to be really interesting.
Power of Soul saves two of its best shots for last: the late great John Lee Hooker preaching the blues with his version of “Red House” and the late great Stevie Ray Vaughan (with Double Trouble) blazing soulfully through a previously unreleased live 12-minute instrumental “Little Wing/Third Stone from the Sun” medley (recorded for the fabled “King Biscuit Flower Hour” back in 1983.)
Will Hendrix purists like this “tribute”? Probably not (maybe I’m wrong, not being one myself I’m not completely sure.) But I think it’s a truly heartfelt tribute collection just the same and worthy of some attention for that.
Hendrix’s versions of most of these tunes can be found on the 2-disc Voodoo Child: The Jimi Hendrix Collection that came out back in ’01. It's a fine introduction to his amazing work.