Cry of Love “was the first of the posthumous releases in the Jimi Hendrix catalog and probably the best as it collected most of the studio tracks that were either completed or very near completion before Hendrix died” (Westergaard). “Posthumous reconstructions of unfinished works are inherently dangerous, principally because even the most capable scholar or producer can only make, at best, an educated guess as to how the work in question would have been completed” (Eder/Koda). “Hendrix had gone so long between albums, seemingly adrift stylistically at various times, that there's no telling exactly what direction he was finally going to end up working toward” (Eder/Koda).
“Originally slated to be part of a double-album sequel to Electric Ladyland” (CdUniverse.com), the tentatively-titled First Rays of the New Rising Sun was “a concept that died with Hendrix in 1970” (CdUniverse.com). “Even the people who worked…with [Hendrix] can't say which songs would have ended up on [it or if he would have] even ended up using that title for the album, or what embellishments he would have added to any of them in the course of completing them, or even if he might not have totally reconsidered such matters as tempo and approach to any of them” (Eder/Koda).
What emerged in the wake of Hendrix’s death was the flawed, single disc Cry of Love. The material was “tampered with, mostly in the form of posthumous overdubbed embellishments supervised by producer Alan Douglas” (Eder/Koda). Luckily, “after years of legal wrangling” (CdUniverse), the Hendrix estate regained control over the materials and that “album has been rendered as a footnote” (Westergaard). In its place is First Rays of the New Rising Sun, “the initial album released under the direct supervision of the Hendrix family” (CdUniverse.com). The album included “all of Cry of Love, plus seven tracks that had been the high points of the two cash-in albums that followed (1971's Rainbow Bridge and 1972's War Heroes)” (Alroy). First Rays was “presented in drastically improved sound” (Westergaard), and “lovingly produced by Hendrix’s studio collaborators” (Graff/ Durchholz) with the overdubbing “stripped off and the multi-track masters retrieved and restored” (Eder/Koda). “What he would have eventually come up with…is anyone's guess, but [First Rays] is the best representation of where the songs were at the point that he died” (Eder/Koda).
The album “allows us to see the many sides of this innovative artist” (CdUniverse.com). This is an “earthier successor to Electric Ladyland’s psychedelic excursions” (Eder/Koda). “Hendrix appeared to be in transition between flamboyant showman and serious musician personas at the time (meaning his work, had he lived, might have been twice as meritorious and half as fun), and that makes many of these tracks all the more interesting” (Solder). “Hendrix's voice is not only powerful and expressive throughout, but a more melodic instrument than it seemed on his earlier releases” (Eder/Koda). “Partly this is because Hendrix and engineer Eddie Kramer never finished embellishing the songs, or completed the final mixes. But whatever the reasons, the change is refreshing” (Eder/Koda).
“These tracks work as individual compositions” (Christgau). There are “songs here… [that] show him finally” (Eder/Koda) “embracing R&B and funk elements in his singing, playing, and overall sound” (Eder/Koda).
“Freedom, all flashes and exuberance, …pointedly sets the tone for the record” (Kaye). It is “a scorching blues tune with precise and thought out, Creamy licks that we're not grown to expect” (Starostin) of Hendrix. It is “one of Hendrix' best, full of straining tensions and masterful releases, ripping along at a pace that is not to be believed, picking up speed as it goes. Hendrix always knew how to kick a band, and he is at his peak here. Mitch Mitchell follows him along perfectly, and shows a few of the reasons why he was always Hendrix' greatest foundation” (Kaye).
“Night Bird Flying starts sluggishly, as if most of the musicians weren't quite sure what to do with it, but picks up a little as Hendrix begins to jam with his own guitar work on another track” (Kaye).
“Night Bird Flying” and Angel are both “offhand rhapsodies” (Christgau), but on the latter “blazing, confessional ballad” (Starostin), “Jimi's tortured soul steps on the surface and he lets go with a blazing, confessional ballad…that rivals 'Little Wing' as his most emotional piece of writing” (Starostin). “If whoever put together [this album] had a flair for the melodramatic, ‘Angel’ might have been placed at the end of the record, its deathlike images of salvation and resurrection providing the final touch to a memorial album. But programmed as it is…it stands on its own merits, a beautiful piece of work” (Kaye).
“A beautiful guitar figure opens [Drifting, soft and formless, and waits as the rest of the instruments slowly slide in, seemingly revolving one around the other” (Kaye). The song demonstrates how “Hendrix had the uncanny knack of molding his music perfectly to his lyrics” (Kaye). “Hendrix' vocal is right up front, almost studied, filled with lovely images of ‘Driftin'/On a sea of forgotten teardrops/On a lifeboat ...’ and floating off from there. It's a ghostly cut, one of the most moving pieces Hendrix ever created, and it says much for the breadth and scope of his talent” (Kaye).
Stepping Stone showcases Hendrix’s “runaway flights of fancy” (CdUniverse.com) while the “frantic In from the Storm, [shows] Hendrix shining at his most furious, changing the structure of the song three or four times until things finally run out of steam” (Kaye). There’s also "the thundering Dolly Dagger” (Alroy) and the instrumental Beginnings sports “a fantastic riffing excercise” (Starostin). On Straight Ahead, “Hendrix plays a nice wah-wah guitar, but the song is dragged down by some fairly obvious Socially Significant lyrics and a lethargic reading” (Kaye).
“The blazingly psychedelic Room Full of Mirrors” (Alroy) exhibits Hendrix’s ability to craft “overcharged rock/funk explosions” (CdUniverse.com). “The unique guitar tone…turns it into a head-spinning psychedelic experience” (Starostin).
“Ezy Ryder is a rocker, plain and simple, and Hendrix and Co. light into it with a fury. The guitar leads are short and to the point, and there isn't a wasted moment. The cut fades at the end and then returns with a sudden lick, almost as an afterthought – a nice touch” (Kaye). This is also one of the songs where “famous friends dot the sonic landscape (Steve Winwood and Chris Wood)” (CdUniverse.com). Also guesting on the album are “The Ronettes on Earth Blues” (CdUniverse.com).
Along with “Ezy Ryder,” Astro Man stands as an example of one of Hendrix’s “primal riffsongs” (Christgau). "This one has the most incomplete feel, with nobody really sure of where the song is heading. Yet building from [its] science fiction chords…it easily overcomes any of its deficiencies, loose limbed and rocking at every turn” (Kaye). It also "captures a light moment for the artist, as he opens the guitar workout with a quote from the Mighty Mouse theme song…beneath the guitar” (Eder/Koda).
“My Friend, with its “low-key atmosphere and sweeping chord changes” (Wilson) alongside “tinkling glasses and nightclub noises, could just have been the usual end-of-side-one throwaway, except for a set of lyrics which Hendrix almost casually injects. The style is Dylanesque, circa ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’: slightly surrealistic, a lot of friendly nonsense, and some very aware, deeply personal lines. ‘And, uh, sometimes it's not so easy, specially when your only friend Talks, sees, looks and feels like you/And you do just the same as him ...’ Not much. Just a little something to think about” (Kaye).
Like “My Friend,” Belly Button Window, is another of Hendrix’s “inspired goofs” (Christgau). It is also “one of his most successful traditional bluesy outings” (Eder/Koda), "a kind of slow and mellow blues which Hendrix performs accompanied only by his guitar, a sly smile on his face, a few light whistles as the fade comes in” (Kaye).
The end result is a Hendrix album that’s “fully competitive, in terms of merits and surprises, with his trio of completed studio albums” (Eder/Koda). This “is a beautiful, poignant testimonial, a fitting coda to the career of a man who was clearly the finest electric guitarist to be produced by the Sixties, bar none” (Kaye). “Hendrix remains the center of a musical universe whose light was snuffed out far too soon” (CdUniverse.com).
* Reviews noted with an asterisk are specific to Cry of Love; otherwise the review refers to First Rays.