Jimi Hendrix – Axis: Bold as Love (1967)

Axis: Bold As Love was the second studio album that Jimi Hendrix released with the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Released at the end of 1967, it was definitely a more psychedelic rock sounding album in comparison to the more blues rock oriented Are You Experienced, while it was on this album where Hendrix began to utilise and experiment more with studio techniques and effects. Axis: Bold As Love was quite a pioneering album in this regard, with Hendrix drawing on the expertise of in demand studio engineer Eddie Kramer in utilising as many studio techniques as possible in an attempt to experiment with sound and song structure. Throughout this album you hear amongst other things backward guitar, fading, guitar feedback and stereophonic phasing. As well as these techniques this album was also significant in that it was one of the first albums which featured the wah-wah pedal for guitar, a new toy that Eric Clapton and Hendrix were beginning to use and what would become standard amongst rock guitarists in the years ahead.

Musically speaking, Axis is by in large a psychedelic rock album and contains heavily distorted guitar, quite out there lyrics about things as diverse as castles made of sand and travelling by dragonfly, and as I have mentioned the heavy use of studio production techniques. There is the odd exception to this psychedelic formula stylistically speaking such as the R&B influenced “Wait Until Tomorrow”, but even when Hendrix diverges stylistically into other areas these songs still tend to have a psychedelic touch to them. Hendrix guitar playing is the driving force throughout this album, although he tends to veer away from guitar hero like solos for a more rhythmic and melodic style of playing which locked  in with the drums and bass and allowed the use of studio trickery to take the listener on a journey. One of the limitations of having only three band members and only one guitarist is that sometimes the sound can feel a bit empty with the instruments often sounding isolated or exposed. This often means more work for the individual players in the band, or for the players to play their instrument slightly differently, something I feel Hendrix does quite well on this album with his playing appearing almost as a lead rhythm style in order to fill out the sound. It also helps to have a good rhythm section of which the Experience did in the form of Mitch Mitchell (drums) and Noel Redding (bass) who combined nicely to give the songs a rich thickness to them. Mitchell in particular shines on this album especially in his ability to move between different styles of drumming such as jazz on “Up from the Skies”, R&B on “Wait Until Tomorrow” and finally wild heavy rock on “You Got Me Floating”.

Stand out tracks for me on this album include the heavy rock of “Spanish Castle Magic”, the sweet psychedelia of “Little Wing” and the soulful rock of album closer “Bold as Love”, one of my favourite Hendrix songs and definitely one of his best. Despite the presence of some clearly stronger, overall this album flows nicely together as a coherent whole and unlike many albums lacks any filler of significance which disrupts the listener. Even on really good albums you still on occasion can come across a couple of tracks which feel out of place or that get a reaction from the listener in the form of what were they thinking here, but on Axis this is not the case with this album being a nice listen throughout.

Axis: Bold As Love is a great little 60s psychedelic rock album that established Hendrix as a major figure in 60s rock. I say little because it is quite short, running in at around thirty-odd minutes, but also because it is often overlooked in the Hendrix cannon in favour of his debut album and his studio masterpiece Electric Ladyland. This I feel is unjust as this album holds up very well alongside these two other works and was also a significant moment in Hendrix’s career as it was on this album where the world first saw a first major glimpse of Hendrix the creator, composer, and studio innovator. It was also a revolutionary album for the time in its use of studio technology and how sound-wise it definitely channelled the cultural atmosphere of the period in the form of psychedelia and the Summer of Love. Finally in summing up this album I would say it does a good job in showing what you can do with three musicians and a studio and also how you don’t need a cast of millions to record good music, and record good music they did.

A

– Sam

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