ELECTRIC LADYLAND 50th ANNIVERSARY VINYL BOX SET
Maybe a little about the set up and what was brought to the listen sessions is my best starting point here. While the speakers may not be everyone’s preference for review purpose I personally find them my go to, I’d be lost without them! Harbeth 30.1s and driven in this instance by the LFD Mkv integrated amp’ through LFD spiroflex speaker cable.
This, from the Michell Gyro SE, never connected power supply, SME 309 / Lyra Delos. An older model Dino Trichord phonostage into LFD silver reference interconnects cables.
A precursor to this piece.
I sourced the vinyl set from the USA as opposed to picking up an EU copy. The latter would have been much quicker to obtain as I’m based in the UK and of course slightly cheaper. But that route was never an option to me as the EU pressing presents too many questions about the actual records linage. Would it be an analogue master, a [direct] Grundman master? For sure, it would not be a QRP pressing. For me, the big deal lay with the, “who and from what”, when it came to the mastering.
Would the EU pressing, retain the all analogue and direct Bernie Grundman master status? Given past experiences and having the same titles from Sony Legacy / Music of other Hendrix releases at hand to reference, the doubts are more than real. I have little doubt that the EU pressing in this instance is not All Analogue for the main album.
To be clear, this piece deals with the US pressing only.
So, after a VERY long wait [sourced from ebay to help keep costs down, that didn’t work out as well as expected either as it took five weeks from issue to actually sit on the TT!] the set finally arrived and not without a hiccup to the content!
A nice looking box that utilises an overly dark cover shot, the one Jimi had requested for the front cover back in 1968. Plenty of related studio shots from Eddie Kramer plus as we have a live set included here, some wonderful Hollywood Bowl shots with credits to Cal Bernstein and Chuck Boyd for those Bowl photographs.
I was surprised to find that some shots in the vinyl set booklet had been cropped a little more than those self-same shots contained in the CD set. Only one page suffers for it to any degree, page 28. Overall, nicely presented but I do wonder about the inclusion of a shot from the Municipal Auditorium, Shreveport. The only association I can fathom would be the year, 1968, as it has no relation to the studio album or the live set outside of that year date.
There are some similarities to the booklet that is presented here to the one that we got back in the 1990’s from Experience Hendrix, with a similar approach being applied. There are some key differences, as in replacing the essay from Derek Taylor for an updated over view from David Fricke, plus added comments on the included Making Of documentary and 5.1 surround mix. I am though at odds with some detail contained in the new essay. A minor point as the overall presentation is very good.
We also get information contained within the gatefold sleeves of the live and demo LP sets. John McDermott presents the individual track detailing, thought invaluable it barely covers the detail behind a lot of this material. In defence to that, it would take a book or at least a detailed magazine article to do so!
The live set included here, well I’m simply at a loss as to why it was included in this set in the first instance. The options of course, leave this out and reduce the set size and price point or utilise the vinyl for more appropriate and related material while maintaining the price point.
More comment on the live set points later of course.
The first of the three double albums presented in this Electric Ladyland 50th Anniversary set is of course the album itself. So against that I was able to pull out the following records. Note, none of the pre 2010 pressings had full plays, simply one track as a “reminder” to me. I used the Newbury Comics Ladyland pressing as the main counter listen, for the following reasons.
The Newbury Comics [blue] vinyl is the closest to this 50th set as both this set and the Newbury are from pre EQ’d master and both are QRP pressings. Originally the 2010 pre EQ’d release was pressed at RTI. I have noted in previous reviews just how good a move, from RTI to QRP was back in 2011, was and has proven to be for Experience Hendrix. It’s just a shame this isn’t rolled out globally given that would not be overly difficult I fail to understand why it hasn’t as yet!
So, along with this Newbury Comics pressing I also pulled my Track Records double, both Track single releases of Electric Ladyland, a Reprise Records, a Barclay and some UK Polydor pressings. Again in the case of the latter I was able to pull both the double and single issues of the album. There are more Polydor’s available to me but there was little reason to stretch this out even further with the pre EQ’s.
The condensed single track listen on all of these was “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”. All of these pre 2010 All Analogue pressings are fundamentally the same in that they suffer the limitations of the applied EQ. None of them really match what is presented from 2010 onwards. The Reprise, an early pressing, is about as poor as you can imagine. No wonder Hendrix struggled with this and as documented by John McDermott, sought out a mastering engineer shortly after this release! Track Records fares a little better with at least some degree of character to the vocal, while Barclay appear to have simply boosted the treble to gain some detail, though that still remained a struggle.
Of all of these early pressings, the UK Polydor fared the best, for me at least. That said, all appear behind a veil, with Polydor managing to bring the best balance to the overall sound. So in essence, there was little that any changes in the mastering would ever likely improve upon from this source master. Dull would be an apt blanket description I can apply here to the pre 2010’s.
Of course, what we prefer is very much a personal thing and having “that” sound in your head for forty years is going to be difficult to get past for many. We saw this with the 2010’s and subsequent re-issues. With some listeners sticking with the “muddy” sounding early pressings and steering clear of what was initially termed a “bright” sounding cut, I’ll go as far as saying; on that basis, those same listeners will struggle with the 50th release.
I like the fact that taking the step back to a pre EQ’d tape source and allowing the mastering engineers a much fairer crack at this album was nothing other than a positive. I’d advocate patients and a few listens with any of the 2010’s and re-issues regardless of the mastering engineer, be it George Marino or Bernie Grundman.
The Bernie Grundman cut is quite radical in its presentation even against that of the George Marino master. Marino appears to have been a little more conservative with his mastering, attempting to present the same “flow” and overall feel to the album as to what preceded it down the years.
My first listens to the 50th cut confirmed my preference for the Marino master while further listening presents me an interesting change of perspective. Now I have the “problem” of which I’m going to sit with for pleasure. That said, each listen moves me into a more “comfortable” appreciation in a listening sense to this box set press.
The highlights for me from the Grundman mastered set are “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”, “Gypsy Eyes”, “1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)” / “Moon, turn the tides … gently gently away” and “Burning Of The Midnight Lamp”. The counter to that and what makes me think I have a “problem” in what to pull from the rack for a play are “Voodoo Chile” and “Little Miss Strange”. Both are a struggle to listen to, at least for me at this moment in time. Also, there is a flow and balance that I’m used to on the previous cuts that I don’t, as yet, find here.
Grundman has this knack of getting inside the tape, to draw out the detail. At times that can detract from the recording in ways that only repeated listens will get past. Also, that appearance of some disruption to the flow of the album gives it a more disjointed feel, something that really will take a little time getting used to for those of us who have been brought up on this album.
I find I had to adjust volume between sides for this set; overall it is cut quieter than the Marino pressing.
When some Hendrix music is as “dry” as this it can detract from the essence of the music. “Voodoo Chile” or at least the beginning of the track misses the dirty bluesy feel present on the Marino master. I did hear some level changes in Marino’s work not present on the later pressing from Grundman. Regardless, the earlier mastering works a lot better [for me] on this track as it draws the listener in immediately, not so with the 50th! Given the weight of this title it may be a deal breaker for some.
“Little Miss Strange”, Noel’s addition that works so well on this album, lacks some energy here. It is presented in a narrower and shallower sound stage and with these points combined it feels washed out to me in comparison to what I hear on the Newbury.
It’ll be interesting as to how I feel about these tracks when I finally sit and listen for the final run through of the double LP.
The overall differences across these albums are both simple and noticeable from first listen. Bernie Grundman has narrowed the stereo field, by default rather than anything else as he tightened and focused the bass. In achieving this we lose a little of the “creeping around the sides” at certain points of the album. We also have some slight movement in placement of instruments and vocal. The vocal movement is very noticeable on “Gypsy Eyes”, which caught me by surprise. None of this is a bad thing of course, as set against the earlier George Marino cut, we have moved away from a wetter bass with a loser feel across everything. Here focus reigns and we have a deeper insight into this tape.
Those couple of negatives aside, the rest, for me at least improves on the Marino cut. The improvement is how we get instruments sounding more like how they sounded at the recording, the separation between instruments and again from vocal without the music losing any cohesion. Marino was able to bring up detail in his mastering, no doubt due to the availability of the pre EQ’d tapes, Grundman goes even further and deeper.
Simple and small detail that still sat on the fringe of hearing with the Marino outing are now more noticeable and it is important that they have not become obtrusive and distracting, they haven’t. With the added focus of the individual instruments we now get to hear some playing like never before. The bass line in “Gypsy Eyes”, Jimi’s bass playing no less, is picked out at one point and Grundman dances it across the rest of and in front of the track. Visually, it’s a little unreal while aurally beautiful, that’s the entry fee right there!
The nylon string bass Jimi uses on “1983” / “Moon” has the most glorious detail and sound. This whole piece is Grundman’s tour de force on this album. Here and elsewhere on the album, Grundman appears to have added a little delicate feel to this aspect of imaging. Panning comes across a lot more relaxed, clearly that comes from the detailing. It is this small detailing that go a long way to make this a must listen.
The studio effects applied on Electric Ladyland were more considered and a lot more restrained than what had been applied on Axis. Bold As Love. Now I find them presented in a way that brings a whole new experience to the listen, a freshness even.
What Grundman also manages to bring out with the deeper insight into the tape is a tonality that is not present on any other pressing I have heard. The full richness of Jimi’s vocal is present throughout the album; check out the resonance, the timbre of the guitar strings in part of “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” just before the second vocal verse. I’m feeling that I’m at that point in time and space, sitting in the control booth at the Record Plant [alongside Kramer and Chandler], not only hearing it as it undoubtedly sounded at the recording that very day but also seemingly like the first time I’ve heard this song. Pretty hard to achieve given I have been listening to the album from close to release back in 1968.
As for the physical pressing it’s not quite flat over the two disc's, it is centred and overall very quiet. The first noise of any real note is a pair of minor pops on “Voodoo Chile” a couple of crackles running out of the end of “Moon turn the tides gently, gently away”, followed by the pop on the tail of “House Burning Down”, that’s about it. A lot has been said regard the pop on side four so it’s important to not gloss over it here. For me it is not in any way an issue or impacts playback. The more I play the album the less noticeable it has become, a single pop on a record is not really a big deal, in fact not a deal at all. Of course the reason, the over reaction towards this pop is down to the fact the fault can be seen, maybe [clearly!] why it drew as much attention as it did. Can’t say it makes for any difference to me when the records on the platter, though QRP may well be concerned as it seemingly would have an impacted on them through all of that social media comment.
Along with that social media / music forum comment there has also been remark regard some reported “distortion” on “House Burning Down”, heard from the 3:40 mark! Not on my copy or set up, this could simply be due to a dirty or worn stylus rather than anything else. This part of the album maybe is maybe a little difficult to track so something as simple and small as this may be the reason why some have heard this! Or even simply that the vinyl is not cleaned before playing rather than the likelihood of any misalignment of the set up.
Regardless, nothing here is of any real concern especially when put up against that issue found on the 2007 Monterey [Experience Hendrix / UMe] pressing. That gave us a click and a pop from the run in through to and including the first vocal verse of “Killing Floor”. Audible and visual on every EU pressing due to a damaged lacquer.
Once I removed myself from the switching of the A/B listen, this album is a joy to behold with its “new” found nuances, through the multitude of differing musical shades on offer for the first time. There has been nothing like this before in relation to this pressing, it now has me wondering what I’m going to experience with the stereo and mono re-mastering’s from Bernie Grundman with the upcoming UHQR Axis. Bold As Love.
Electric Ladyland; The demos and outtakes.
Quite a mixed bag of material presented across these two LP’s, with all of it fitting the box set vibe perfectly.
Not all of the material on this double LP is new to us, a number of these tracks have seen release previously. Both on CD, pre Experience Hendrix and on release from Experience Hendrix compilations! We do though have some new material along with that more familiar material and of that familiar material we get a huge upgrade in quality. For finer detail and an understanding of the history behind the “hotel” tape sources, that can be found in Jimpress* #114, which I referenced here for a couple of points.
Side A, along with the opening two tracks on side B are from late March 1968, Drake Hotel. All of this material can be found elsewhere [“Jimi By Himself. The Home Recordings” which came with the book “The Illustrated Legend of Jimi Hendrix”], though here it is presented “dry”, as no reverb has been added. I find that this makes for an improvement and, simply put stunningly presented on these QRP pressings. This is the first time to vinyl, official vinyl for this material and the pressings are extremely quiet
Despite best efforts and as found with the main album set, this pressing is not quite flat. Personally I struggle with the option to go to 180 or even 200 gram pressings. This option brings very little benefit to an album [as a stand-alone “audiophile” option / upgrade] but will, I’m sure, add to the pressing plants work when attempting to meet deadlines.
“Angel”, from the first source apartment tape has seen release on the West Coast Seattle Boy set and Lifelines. The apartment takes make up sides A and B on this set.
The second tape sourced here is from circa early to mid-1968 with the Drake Hotel again being credited as the recording location. Starting with the tenuously titled “Somewhere” on side B Jimi takes the draft lyrics down a different route. Again an insight into how Jimi was thinking and how he was crafting his music, despite this track not making the album it is invaluable here.
All of these demo’s demand repeat listening, even though a number of these demos never made the album it is such an insight into how Jimi was working at the point of recording the album they can’t be overlooked, invaluable as well as entertaining.
The liner notes states Bernie Grundman as mastering engineer though that is not supported in the dead wax run out as his initials are missing. Unlike the original album here, these along with the studio out takes that are included, are not all analogue. I sought clarity on who mastered this pair of records and have been assured that it would have been Bernie Grundman. If for some reason the album required a “recut” [after Bernie had cut this pair of records initially] it would have been recut utilising Bernie’s notes. Possibly why we do not see BG in the dead wax?
Before moving onto the studio out takes I feel the need to return to the opening track on this out takes album. “1983 … (A Merman I should turn to be)” shows just how complete this piece had been crafted pre studio recording by Jimi, later simply utilising Mitch and Chris Woods [and a bass guitar] along with the studio facilities to embellish the song. Complimenting all of this are Kramer’s extra hands at the mixing of the track of course.
“1983” is used to bookend this apartment / studio demos set, an approach we previously saw with :Blues, as on that release utilising an acoustic and electric rendition of “Hear My Train A Comin’” as the intro’ / outro’ to the album. It works just as well here with “1983”.
Ever since the beginning of commercial digital media in the form of CD, I have wondered about the designation of track indexing points on this piece of music. Not just simply where those index points should sit but even if indeed these two titles are separate tracks at all and should be as such designated individual tracks in the digital domain. It never was the case with vinyl! A point Frank Moriarty brought back to my focus while he was writing his Modern Listener Guide: Jimi Hendrix.*
Back in 1997 Experience Hendrix designated “Moon, Turn the Tides … gently, gently away” to a solitary one minute on their CD issues, that from 5 minutes plus on the digital issues from previous “custodians” of the Hendrix catalogue. That one minute “Moon” would subsequently appear on the re-issued cloned CD’s from Experience Hendrix.
It’s tough to find detail for the recording of “Moon…..” and I find that odd, especially as it has indeed been designated as a separate piece in the digital domain. As heard on the vinyl, there are no fades or cross fades between these titles. It simply is a single entity despite having those two titles originally presented to us by Jimi. A close study of this material suggests [albeit arguably] that the piece is structured and presented as four sections, “1983” moving into “Moon”, returning to the main theme and lyric of “1983”, so becoming “1983 …. Reprise” and then back to “Moon …. Reprise”, for that final minute.
Placing any index mark on a CD is a tough call to make, given Hendrix never envisioned CD let alone index points! Attempting to second guess Jimi is never a good move but the music speaks for itself. When playing a CD on random selection or through a machine that tracks the index points then it is very disconcerting to either have “1983” disembodied from “Moon” or worse still a single minute of meaningless audio or even a stuttered playback. Two titles for sure but unarguably and without a doubt a single piece of music. Thankfully this is not an issue on good old fashioned vinyl!
The studio out takes that are included here are few and far between, disappointingly so in fact. From side C to the end of side D all the material is studio, either recorded at the Record Plant or Sound Centre studios. Here’s where it gets exciting on this set as most of this is new to us, presented either more complete [There is always an exception!] and / or in superior quality.
Right from the off, with the alternate take of “And The Gods Made Love”, you get to “see” the inside of the music! As with the Ladyland set, the alt’ studio material is as revealing but not as “deep” revealing as the previous set from this box.
Quite a lot of focus has been placed on “Long Hot Summer Night” in this 50th set, with apartment takes and now with two studio outtakes. I’d have liked more of this type of focus on “Voodoo Chile” and / or “Voodoo Chile (slight Return)”, “Watchtower” and “House Burning Down”, just some solid candidates for a “deeper” look into this body of work. An option that would have made the set a lot stronger and supported the releases claim from the title!
The stripped back rhythm guitar and piano take of “Summer Night” is sublime. Al Kooper’s piano sounds wonderful and I get that feel of being privy to a private run through of the song right here at home. Both this and the following run through of the track, now with Mitch on drums are from the same date as the basic track that appears on the Ladyland album, demonstrating the rapid progress this song took.
From the first play onwards of side D from this set I keep returning to a single word question, why? Here’s our notable and noticeable exception cropping up here. Why is Rainy Day Shuffle presented in such a truncated manner? Clipped of the start and robbed of the ending two minutes or so. It is not that there is something to hide here, poor or out of tune playing for example as we get great organ and guitar running right through to the end were the track does fall apart. Here it runs to a dead stop! The abrupt end feels as out of place as it actually is.
I can only think it was cut short to make space for the final studio demo of the run through of “1983” on the vinyl. If that is the case it is another reason as to why adding a live set to this box over two albums is misguided.
That the biggest downside to this set is that lack of studio out take content, some of which mentioned here already; as such we have a substandard recording of a tenuously connected live double LP from the Hollywood Bowl. Even if this were a multi-track soundboard recording I’d argue against it being included here. Here, it fails to achieve minimum sound quality for a main stream release as it also fails in regards to association of the “celebration” of “Electric Ladyland”.
With a wealth of outtake material to draw upon this has to be considered an odd route to take. Foisting the purchase of such a live set, of dubious sound quality on the customer is a strange way to treat such a release as Electric Ladyland I must say, but we have it and so a few lines about it.
Tenuously linked? For sure it is, with simply a 1968 date close to the release date of the album, a mention of its release during the performance and one track performed from the then upcoming release. Yes, very tenuously linked and far from able to justify being a part of this set regardless of SQ.
I had the second disc duplicated in my set. I contacted QRP and not only was the reply swift; they also corrected the problem with supplying me with the missing sides A/B as promptly as was possible. I do know this set was the last to be pressed up and it was close to the release deadline date set. Not ideal for anyone to pack up a set so it is an understandable error.
Again these albums are not perfectly flat but they are centred and all four sides being dead quiet. Nothing, not even a static tick to be heard, ironically these four sides that make up the live set are the best pressed. Nothing other than silence even in the run in and out, dead quiet!
Given the limitations here, Grundman works a small wonder. Keeping the imaging central presents what we have as best possible return for the listener. The deterioration of sound quality from the recording is noticeable as the recording progressed, none the less an easy listenable show as long as you have tuned your “bootleg ears” in for the ride! And there you have it in a nutshell as to why this set is so misplaced, mainstream releases should not require “bootleg ears”, ever!
In essence, a must hear mastering for the “main” event. I do advise a few listens for those who have the older pressing so well ingrained from over those many years of playing this record. The more I play this, even from a critical perspective, the more I seem to be enjoying it as a whole. Yes, the first few listens did take some getting used to, that’s how radically different this sounds but I certainly wouldn’t be without it now.
The other positive to this box are the outtakes and demo set, unarguably presented here in superior quality. The mastering again is quite significant in respect to the studio material while the home demos are as they were recorded with no added reverb. That alone allows for the improvement we hear.
Both QRP and the mastering engineer have worked wonders to present this live recording as well as they have. The limitations of choice of content aside, as a vinyl release this is more than a welcome edition. It’s exciting and pleasing to have a fresh insight into such a very familiar mix.
So, removing my listening from all comparisons and sitting with Electric Ladyland double LP [start to finish] just how does it really shape up?
It becomes a more coherent listen for a start but I did find myself getting out of my seat to notch the volume up 30 seconds into “Voodoo Chile”, looking for that immersive feel I guess! I’m thinking that it will be difficult to return to the other pressings after this. On this last run through, “(Slight Return)” presented some weird [in a good way] feel in the imaging; it almost felt that the panning at one point came across as rotation, an arc of 180 degree. Something I’d not heard in the comparisons or on any other mastering.
As a stand-alone listen, lost were the slightly narrower soundstage and the dryer sound, just a momentous album playing out before me. This QRP is a must, whether it goes on to float your boat is another question, for me it does and improves with each listen. It’s really got me for sure.
**Modern Listener Guide: Jimi Hendrix https://www.modernlistenerpublishing.com/?fbclid=IwAR3dkXTRdnrA2fExi2zZ_csF1b18O2jVQvWSAT_CY6tjeYFXzj60B4kV9zk
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