Arthur Lee, Love, Americana? Well, this blog is so named thanks to the great ZigZag magazine which informed much of this writer’s formative musical years (ears) and old Arthur was a ZigZag hero so news of a CD (and vinyl) release of the last “proper” Love album deserved some investigation.
By 1974 Lee was pretty much a done deal, his sixties glory days behind him and despite Love’s albums, in particular Forever Changes, considered classics of LA psychedelia, his band was gone, Bryan, Snoopy, Echols and DC cast to the wind. Lee himself was considered wayward and difficult but those fans of Forever Changes were desperate to will him into creating another masterpiece and so it was that RSO Records offered him a bunch of money to make another album. It sank like a stone.
So is Reel To Real worth a listen these days? Well, it’s the first time it’s been available on CD so diehards will go for it. In addition there’s a whopping 12 additional tracks and a 24 page booklet detailing the album’s genesis and ultimate death throes, more manna for Lovemaniaxs. It’s not Forever Changes, in fact it’s not remotely like any of the Elektra albums, but listened to in the clear light of day, preconceptions cast aside, it’s a sometimes thrilling and always intriguing slice of seventies funk, Lee not in rainbows anymore but Black and proud, digging Hendrix, Sly, Otis and Curtis Mayfield. There are some hypnotic grooves, fat horn riffs and clavinet propelled funk chunks that place the album firmly in its time, if this was an obscure act finally unearthed then I’m sure folk would be salivating over it and Quentin Tarantino would already be cueing it up for his next Blaxploitation flick.
There are shades of the super cool LA hipster on you Said You Would and Singing Cowboy (from Four Sail) gets a reprise but there’s a fascinating glimpse into what the moneymen (and fans) were wanting in the final track here. A previously unreleased rehearsal of a song that was written about the time of Forever changes, Wonder People has the vibe of that album, a freewheelin’, almost bossa nova swing as Lee half sings, half scats through the words. As it falters and ultimately fades out it’s a tantalising glimpse into an alternate world. Nevertheless there’s enough solid energy in the album itself to keep a listener satisfied. Time Is Like A River is a strong Gospel inflected churn similar to what Delaney and Bonnie and Leon Russell were popularising at the time. Who Are You? visits funk central, its busy horns, frenzied keys and percussion with some liquid guitar solos somewhat badass. With A Little Energy buzzes with its sloganeering tying it into the vibes of the time, all Wattstax and that and Be Thankful For What You Got is a gossamer glide into Curtis Mayfield territory.
Lee and Hendrix were apparently mutual fans and on Busted Feet Lee dives headlong into the distorted blues world of Hendrix coming up with a tremendous approximation of The Band Of Gypsies era. The original album had a truncated version and there’s an extended and indeed heavier take included here which is just sublime, Lee adlibbing as the guitars scatter and squall, the end result somewhat breathtaking.
So, a relic of sorts but an important addition to the Lee canon. Lee himself seemed reconciled to be forever tied to Forever Changes in his later years as he toured with his ensemble recreating those glorious sounds, a better ending to his turbulent and troubled life than many would have anticipated. Reel To Real however is another testament to his vitality. And while it’s cool that Reel To Real is at long last available on CD High Moon are also issuing it in a deluxe two disc vinyl edition.Go visit them if you’re interested.