Despite the fact virtually the entirety of Jimi Hendrix’ The Cry of Love (released 3/5/71) has been issued in different contexts many other times in the past, it’s a tribute to the lasting power within its music—not to mention the eternal fascination with the late icon himself– that retrospective listening to the album proper inspires more than a few provocative thoughts.
Granted, engineer Eddie Kramer and drummer Mitch Mitchell probably knew better than anyone the mindset of the West Coast Seattle Boy as he crafted these recordings. Nevertheless, it’s a remarkable achievement these long-time collaborators formulated such a well-balanced set of tracks: the pacing of the dozen tracks is as readily discernible over the course of a single LP side of vinyl or as a single sequence on a compact disc. Accentuating the flow is how judiciously the pair imparted production touches such as the stereo panning of the guitars, timed to reflect the progression of the solos, as well as the rarely discernible drum overdubs which simply reaffirm how the percussion matched the ingenuity of the multiple layers of the main instrument.
There is the nagging thought, however, that Hendrix well may have benefited from an objective third party in the role of co-producer. His original mentor, former Animals bassist Chas Chandler, served in that role up to (and including some of) Electric Ladyland and, in hindsight, his input suggests that track sequence might exclude “Belly Button Window.” Yet as with a blues that corresponds to another deceptively clever idea, the comic book fantasy “Astro Man,” it is hardly the throwaway it may seem at first. Instead, it’s an extension of the social-conscious themes that appear in “Freedom” which hearken to the implicitly topical material such as “Machine Gun” and “Message to Love” debuted with the Band of Gypsys at the turn of 1969 to 1970 (coincidental with similarly-themed material by Curtis Mayfield after he went solo upon leaving the Impressions).
Also seemingly too informal for its own good is “My Friend.” Yet as another modified twelve-bar number, it works as a riposte to hangers-on as true to Jimi Hendrix’ own life experience at the time of its writing and recording as “Night Bird Flying.” Given the chord patterns and themes of “Ezy Ryder” somewhat too readily recall the aforementioned other first-rate songs on The Cry Of Love, it’s nevertheless worth noting how this composition also derives indirectly from “In From the Storm:” apart from “Room Full of Mirrors,” Hendrix may never have written a more complete statement of deliverance and redemption (not to mention forged a template for hard rock/heavy metal riffing).
On the other end of the dynamic spectrum, there are the ever so delicate likes of “Drifting” and “Angel.” Reaffirmation of the notion Jimi’s most memorable songs and performances were ballads, these quiet expressions of patience and optimism (tainted still with some touches of foreboding) benefit as much as their surroundings from Bernie Grundman’s 2014 remastering. This sonic upgrade most prominently reinforces the resounding bottom of Billy Cox’ comparatively simple bass lines as they function as an instrumental anchor for his comrades. But the audio presence of other subtle instrumental colors becomes readily apparent too, in the form of piano and vibes, as do the multiplicity of ideas Jimi Hendrix was fusing into the major composition that is “Straight Ahead:” it stands as a studio corollary to his natural penchant for improvisation on stage.
The seemingly arbitrary placement of many of these same cuts (and others recordings from this general time period) on subsequent releases and various vault collections only further substantiates how powerful they are on their own terms. Yet a half-century perspective on The Cry Of Love fully restores the (relative) emotional power of the work in its original form.