To have such a collection from Jimi after 30 + years is a real treat. It's such a tease to hear this music and think of what more there might have been. Jimi and bandmates Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell delve deeply into a funk-rock sound, leaving behind the psychedelia that was a mainstay of Jimi's first three studio albums. The mood of the music is upbeat, and the lyrics are consistently interesting, and generously laced with Hendrix humor. The arrangements are densely packed, yet lively and loose - a credit to Hendrix's own production. Standout tracks are "Freedom", "Dolly Dagger", "Ezy Rider", "Drifting" and "My Friend", and each of these belongs in the pantheon of great Hendrix performances. And for anyone who wonders what Jimi's state of mind was in the period immediately preceding his death, I get the sense from this album that he was a happy man, feeling at the top of his game and looking intensely into the future.
Drawbacks? Well, yes, although with Hendrix's untimely death during the creation of this album, we have to assume that some of the songs here wouldn't have made his final cut, and other unrecorded gems we will never hear would have made it in. But with that said, there is limited songwriting range here. You will not find anything here like the experimental jazz of "Rainy Day, Dream Away", the manically inspired blues of "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)", the gorgeous melody, poetry and sensitivity of "The Wind Cries Mary" or the visionary musical journey of "1983". These were all songs that revealed Jimi as the unpredictable and flamboyantly creative genius he was. "First Rays" includes no such revelations, is more formulaic, and even includes a few tracks that you really don't need to hear more than once. But a great album? Absolutely! And essential to your Hendrix collection.