Let me state right off that I love cover songs (one of my slogans is, “Always judge a band by its covers”). Which may seem strange, considering that one of my main standards for judging music is originality. I think it’s the particular challenge which cover songs present to an artist: can they do something new, something original, with someone else’s material. Which brings me immediately to greatest weakness of this set of blues artists covering Hendrix songs. Jimi Hendrix was one of the most innovative, most original, musicians ever, in any genre. He had no fear of covers himself, but every one he touched, from “Johnny B. Goode” to “All Along the Watchtower”, he made his own. In fact, his take on “All Along the Watchtower” is so powerful and distinctive that the song is more associated with him than Bob Dylan, who actually wrote it (it is considered enough of a Hendrix song to be included here).
This collection demonstrates, by default, just how inventive he was. None of these very talented musicians comes close to producing something I haven’t heard before. The closest thing is Walter Trout’s echo-drenched, but otherwise clean and pure, take on “The Star Spangled Banner.” These are all competent, and usually enjoyable versions of these songs, but they too often sound like someone striving for the highs Hendrix already laid down, rather than reaching their own summits.
Not surprisingly, the highlights on the disc are two songs which sound almost nothing like Hendrix, where the artists truly make the songs their own. In both cases, one of Hendrix’s wildest hard rock freak-outs is turned into slow groove blues: “Purple Haze” as rendered by Friend’n’Fellow, and especially Taj Mahal’s soulful take on “All Along The Watchtower.” Overall, this is an enjoyable album featuring a number of talented musicians (others include Eric Burdon, Buddy Miles with Double Trouble, Vernon Reid and Michelle Shocked). However, to a great degree it shows that, rather than building on Hendrix’s accomplishments, many of today’s musicians are still trying to catch up.