Because Jimi Hendrix was so unlike other musicians, he stands alone. When I listen to him, I think of all the other great music happening in 1967, such as the Jefferson Airplane, Cream, and the Who.
Driving, working around the house, or just listening with my eyes closed. It’s an album I know well enough to enjoy in the background, but still rewards careful listening. Plenty danceable, too.
While timeless, the album—and especially the song “If 6 Was 9”—would firmly place in a 1967-era movie about the political movements and counterculture beginning to take shape.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience released its sophomore Axis: Bold as Love in Europe in December 1967, just seven months after issuing its debut, Are You Experienced. Reprise, Hendrix’s U.S. label, held the follow-up for another month to avoid having it interfere with the sales of Are You Experienced, which it hadn’t released until August 1967. Axis: Bold as Love charted at #5 in the U.K., #3 in the U.S., and rose to #6 on Billboard’s R&B charts.
The set produced no hit singles, so the aforementioned chart positions demonstrate how the LP was becoming a dominant format in pop music. It also solidified Hendrix’s reputation as a guitarist and songwriter, and showed his increased sophistication in the studio. And it confirmed his versatility. “Little Wing” stands as a beautiful and sensitive ballad, “Up from the Skies” affirms Hendrix’s jazz chops, and “You Got Me Floatin’” comes on as distorted, slamming garage rock. Other tracks, such as “Spanish Castle Magic” and “One Rainy Wish,” came across unlike any other music at the time and underscored the Seattle native’s unique talents.
I’ve owned several copies of Axis: Bold as Love, including a tri-colored steamship early Reprise pressing. But I preferred an early 70s Reprise edition for its more sparkling top end and more defined bass. George Marino mastered the album in 1997 for release by MCA when the label still owned the Hendrix catalog. The vinyl release was sourced from high-resolution digital files and, considering the source, has very good sound.
Marino again handled the mastering for the 2010 Experience Music/Legacy all-analog vinyl version. Similarities exist between his earlier digitally based masters and the later one. Both possess more clarity and drive than the earlier pressing, but the all-analog copy is more organic and natural. In contrast to my earlier Reprise pressing, the newer reissue has more space, depth, and transparency.
On the opening “EXP,” Hendrix’s guitar feedback and tremolo-bar dive bombs shift between channels on the early pressing. On the newer LP, the effects come out further in front and reach back, as well, creating a more circular motion as the sounds move between speakers. When Mitch Mitchell’s drums introduce “Up from the Skies,” his brushes hit the drums more solidly and have more bounce, which lets the individual tones appear with more clarity.
Hendrix’s chords ring out with more authority and complexity, too. On “Spanish Castle Magic,” for instance, the fifth chord at the opening features a solid crunch lacking on the earlier pressing. The descending chords in the chorus of “If 6 Was 9” decay quickly on the earlier pressing, but Marino’s remaster fills them out and lets them sustain, letting you hear a hint of surrounding reverb. By extension, the guitar pull-offs and fills on “Little Wing” and “Castles Made of Sand” are cleaner and sharper, and you can better discern the midrange tone of Hendrix’s instrument.
Mitchell’s drums seem impressively large throughout the LP. His snare cracks hard on “Spanish Castle Magic” to buoy Hendrix, and his kick drum moves more air to give everything more solidity. The ride cymbal sizzles more and cymbal splashes are more dynamic and hang in the air longer. Marino’s remaster also gives Noel Redding’s bass extra low-frequency energy and brings more attention to his attack.
Marino’s work clarifies important details without losing the essence of the recording. Hendrix’s voice is more focused, while other small touches make the music spring to life. The shift in dynamics in “One Rainy Wish” feels more dramatic, the echo of Hendrix’s voice in the right channel on “Little Wing” more pronounced, and the guitar effects in the left channel near the beginning of “Spanish Castle Magic,” faint on the earlier pressing, easier to hear.
I compared the currently available Quality Records pressing with the RTI pressing I bought when the LP was reissued in 2010 and heard almost no difference. If challenged, I’d say there’s a little more top end detail on the RTI and better overall balance on the QRP. Either way, this is the definitive 33 1/3 RPM version of Axis: Bold as Love.
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