The third and final studio album released while Jimi Hendrix was alive, Electric Ladyland gets the anointment to deluxe edition for its 50th anniversary, and it’s a near perfect three-CD, one Blu-ray (or 6-LP) collection. Not only does the proper album sound as sonically majestic as ever, but the additional discs splendidly provide supplemental and comprehensive material very complementary to the whole. Additionally the discs are housed in a 50-page booklet loaded with illuminating stories, lyrics, and photos, and decorated on its face with the Linda McCartney photo Hendrix originally intended as the record’s cover art. Seemingly, everything about this epic album’s history, execution, and finally realized culmination- artistically and aurally- is here.
The packaging of the set is conscientious and clean; the four discs in pockets- two in front of the booklet, two in back- in CD sleeves, as though individual albums. The proper record displays its original cover art, with the portrait of Hendrix, (the infamous “ladies” cover is featured in a photo in the booklet), and the back cover original, as well, with the photo of The Experience decked in their flower-power attire. It’s a minor, yet telling detail of the attention paid to presenting, and in a sense preserving, the feeling of the album in all of its 1968 glory. And, again, the album itself sounds magnificently rich and warm; arresting still to this day.
The second disc, The Early Takes, is the sketchbook of the album’s creation, with many previously unreleased demos Hendrix made with just his guitar. That’s worth repeating: An entire disc of the guitar icon working out the (then) new songs. It’s a perspective that allows for both an appreciation of the artist’s immense skill, but also counters the album with a revealing contrast of the songs before they become fully inflated to life by the efforts of The Experience and the guests on the album like Steve Winwood, Dave Mason, Jack Casady, and Buddy Miles.
Disc three is a September ’68 concert from the Hollywood Bowl, previously unreleased and part of Hendrix’s official bootleg series. This is where the listener can hear the repertoire as it was performed by just the three, without the studio’s enabling multi-tracks. Again, it is a valuable window into the unimaginable power of that trio and their collective ability to transform their instruments into a sonic mega-monster, not to mention Jimi’s trippy humor and stage presence. The quality of the recording is as to be expected given the limitations of the equipment at the time, but no less worth of inclusion, if for historic significance alone.
The Blu-ray disc includes the 5.1 surround audio engineer Eddie Kramer always dreamed of, and a well-crafted documentary of the making of the album. More than artifact, the doc emphasizes proper credit to Kramer where it’s due and to Jimi, as Ladyland was the first album Hendrix produced, and gives glimpses into the revolutionary recording techniques utilized during the sessions. Add in the booklet, with another engaging essay from noteworthy rock writer David Fricke, and every reason to own this deluxe edition of this groundbreaking album is persuasive and complete.