Nowhere is the burden of greatness more apparent than on these 2 Love reissues on High Moon Records. A listener could almost be forgiven for neglecting the fine music on each disc thanks to that burden of trying to listen to see if this measures up to the guy's previous stuff, notably Forever Changes (1967). And, of course, we're hearing Arthur Lee try to measure up to his earlier successes as well.
And, yeah, that's tremendously unfair 'cause Arthur Lee had many masterpieces in him and 1974's Black Beauty, out now, and Reel To Real, out November 27, are 2 of them. The reissues, the projects of the fine new(er) label High Moon Records, highlight many sides of Lee beyond the ones we usually get to see.
At their best, these 2 albums, both from 1974, illustrate the prodigious talents of the late, gifted performer, with Black Beauty showcasing his own Hendrix-like stylings and Reel To Real demonstrating that he could make heavy R'n'B that sounds now like the equal of stuff Stevie Wonder and Sly Stone were cranking out in the very same era.
I mean, "Midnight Sun" on Black Beauty sounds so much like Hendrix that one imagines Jimi's estate suing Arthur's. That's a bit unfair since both musicians were contemporaries and peers and it's doubtful that Arthur was cribbing from Jimi any more than McCartney had to crib from Jagger or Richards. Still, it's music of a kind and if you like one you'll probably like the other, to put it bluntly. And it's a marvelous track thanks also to the guitar playing of Melvan Whittington whose axe is on fire all over this record.
Elsewhere, there's the reggae-infused "Beep Beep" and the trippy beauty of stuff like "See Myself In You" which seems to clearly want to bridge the sort of melodic legacy of earlier Love with where Arthur's head was at in 1974, so to speak.
If Black Beauty (1974) is not entirely as great an album as it should be, it's still a fantastic re-issue package. High Moon Records have outdone themselves with this one. The CD comes in a hardback book loaded with photos from the era and pretty great liner notes from Ben Edmonds. The addition of a 22-minute interview with Arthur Lee makes the CD more than just a great collection of previously-lost music, as do the handful of live cuts which round out the set.
Out on November 27, Reel To Real seems to me the more consistent album from this iteration of Arthur Lee's Love. Now, I know that might now be the popular thing to say given this album's ventures into near-funk but it just seems better. That's not to say that it sounds much like Forever Changes (1967) but no one ever said it had to. At least here we can hear Arthur Lee expanding his musical horizons and seemingly enjoying himself. This album serves, if nothing else, as a hint of what might have been had he made more records like this later in the decade.
Opener "Time is Like a River" unfurls with a sort of grace and seems the very best example of the kind of thing that one could describe as the type of song that only Arthur Lee could write. There's a cover of then-contemporary hit "Be Thankful For What You've Got" on this record and it sounds like Arthur is indeed thankful for his talents on this record, and he's intent on demonstrating them. If Reel To Real lacks the the group cohesion of Black Beauty it's every bit a more consistent release, frankly, and a far better set of examples of Arthur Lee's enduring genius.
The slide guitar of John Sterling, up there in that pic with Arthur, adds a unique layer to what are largely heavy soul tunes of the sort that Sly and Stevie were making in 1974. While "Singing Cowboy" may not be the same sort of thing, it's at least the sort of thing that sounds like Arthur Lee, even if it sounds totally different than most of the tunes we think of when we think of earlier Love records. And yet, that's sort of the genius of this guy. Arthur Lee sounded like a cat who was intentionally trying to broaden his horizons on each record and nowhere is this more obvious than on Real To Reel. Let this quote from a 1974 interview with Lee, included in the liner notes booklet, explain further:
"So that's my trip, man. Getting as black and as funky as I can, man, on my music side. That's what I feel right now. I've been exposed to a lot of different types of music and there are a lot of things that I can contribute to the so-called music world. I want to do that. I don't want to leave no rock unturned."
And, certainly, there's no stone unturned here on Reel To Real (1974) frankly. From the funk of "With a Little Energy" to "Busted Feet" with its dangerous stomp, this is hard music but music that remains wildly melodic as only Arthur Lee-penned tunes could possibly be. Loaded with bonus tracks and alternate takes, this edition of Reel To Real is pretty darn spectacular but this review would be worthless if I did not mention the sublime "Everybody's Gotta Live", the official album closer. An acoustic shuffle that builds in intensity, the cut is surely one of the finest things that Lee ever wrote and the kind of song that warrants purchasing this album if you were even a bit on the fence about it. Direct, poetic, and communal in the best possible way, the cut is positively invigorating.
Black Beauty (1974) is out now and Reel To Real (1974) will be out next week. Both of these Love album are essential releases and the good folks at High Moon Records have done the world a service by putting these out in such fine fashion. Surely what are 2 of the more significant reissues of 2015, I urge you to get these releases now on vinyl or CD. Of course you can buy the downloads too but you might miss out on the wonderful liner notes and packaging if you do that.