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Musicians acknowledge roots on Hendrix tribute album


A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix
Reprise Records.
Various Artists.

By Scott Deskin
Staff Reporter.

Bold as Love, and Electric Ladyland -- on the MCA label reflect a resurgence in the popularity of this guitar legend.

Perhaps it is no surprise that a Hendrix tribute album, entitled Stone Free, was released at this time as well. It boasts 14 different rock/alternative artists performing fourteen Hendrix standards. The concept is a noble one: Each artist, or group, can put its own stamp on each Hendrix selection, with some "reworked arrangements, added samples and synthesizers -- experimenting with technology Hendrix never had access to." Admittedly, samples and synthesizers in a Hendrix song sounds a bit strange; can this succeed?

For the most part, the album is a success. The performances that work best generally stay true to the original versions of the songs. Eric Clapton, fresh from his acoustic unplugged success at the Grammys, reasserts his rock presence with an impassioned, electric delivery of "Stone Free."Ice-T's band, Body Count, also does a masterful job with its performance of "Hey Joe," a biting version of the original wronged love/revenge song. Also great are Living Colour's straight-ahead rock on "Crosstown Traffic," and a surprising shift from the Spin Doctors' pop world to the more sophisticated rhythm of "Spanish Castle Magic."

The experimental songs are more varied. The track that leads off the record, The Cure's version of "Purple Haze," is buried under so much voice-filtering and keyboard experimentation that the urgency of Hendrix's original tune and lyrics is all but lost. P. M. Dawn has better luck with "You Got Me Floatin'," which offers the listener a lively, smooth, and somewhat more hip-hop take on the song. Most interesting is the complete reworking of Hendrix's "Fire" by violin auteur Nigel Kennedy. What is lost by the exclusion of lyrics is offset by the strangeness of the staccato notes of cello and violin that truly is original.

The two best songs on the album, however, are some of Hendrix's lesser known compositions. The Pretenders' version of "Bold as Love" merits a nod for one of the most tuneful, assured recordings on the album. And the group M.A.C.C. (better known as Mike McCready and Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam paired with Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron of Soundgarden) gives some great opportunities for guitar flair from the new breed of Seattle musicians, following in Hendrix's footsteps, to close out the album.

Stone Free is, on the whole, an effective tribute by a wide array of today's musicians who acknowledge modern rock's roots in the work of a man whose success continues long after his death in September 1970. The magic lies in the original albums, but Stone Free has of its own magic to demand repeated listenings.