Long before Jimi Hendrix's vaults were raided for every last burp and fart he committed to tape, 'The Cry of Love' and 'Rainbow Bridge,' both originally released in 1971, were the pinnacle of unreleased Hendrix recordings. But years of posthumous album releases have dimmed the spotlights that once shone on these records.

Too bad, because almost all of the essential Hendrix songs that aren't on his three official albums -- aside from a couple of 'Band of Gypsy' cuts and his historic live performance of 'Star Spangled Banner' from Woodstock -- can be found here. Countless repackaging of the material has diluted their value over time, but 'The Cry of Love' and 'Rainbow Bridge' remain integral parts of the Hendrix catalog.

So even if the new, frills-free reissues of the albums may seem a bit pointless after all this time, especially after all of the other posthumous LPs, they're still the best way to hear some key songs in settings not weighted down by the unfinished scraps surrounding them. There's some filler here, to be sure, but these remastered recordings -- 'Rainbow Bridge' has never been released on CD, 'The Cry of Love' was released on disc back in 1992 -- add the final pieces to Hendrix's legacy.

When the guitar great died on Sept. 18, 1970, he had already disbanded the Experience -- the trio with which he made three classic albums, 'Are You Experienced?,' 'Axis: Bold as Love' and 'Electric Ladyland' -- and was working on his fourth LP, a double-record set tentatively titled 'First Rays of the New Rising Sun.' The 18 songs found on 'The Cry of Love' and 'Rainbow Bridge' pretty much make up the completed tracks slated for that album.

Over the years, alternate takes and mixes, more songs (mostly skeletal fragments of pieces) and studio jams have surfaced on various records. But none of them are as significant as the best cuts on these two LPs (upon its original release, 'Rainbow Bridge' was touted as the soundtrack to a 1971 movie that featured Hendrix in concert, but it really has nothing to do with that forgotten film).

'Freedom,' 'Drifting,' 'Night Bird Flying,' 'Angel' (all from 'The Cry of Love'), 'Dolly Dagger,' 'Hear My Train A Comin'' and 'Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)' ('Rainbow Bridge') are cornerstone works of Handrix's post-Experience era, and reflect an artist on the move to shake his past and forge his future. Wrapping the blues in entirely new shades, Hendrix guides these songs -- recorded primarily between December 1969 and summer 1970 with an assortment of musicians including former Experience members Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, Band of Gypsys Billy Cox and Buddy Miles, Steve Winwood and Stephen Stills.

While the 1997 release of 'First Rays of the New Rising Sun' reconstructs, as closely as possible, Hendrix's vision for his fourth studio album, 'The Cry of Love' and 'Rainbow Bridge' remain pivotal releases in Hendrix's discography. They not only got there first, they also proved that vault sweeping didn't necessarily have to leave fans feeling betrayed. There was plenty of that to come later.

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