Love’s 1974 studio album Reel to Real is now out on CD and digital for the first time, the audio remastered from the original tapes. For this deluxe edition High Moon Records has supplemented the original 11 album tracks with an additional 12 recordings, all but one previously unreleased, from the original sessions. They include alternate takes and mixes, rehearsals, and four never-before-heard Arthur Lee originals. Substantial and informative liner notes by David Fricke of Rolling Stone put the album in context.
Reel to Real was the last 1970s studio album Lee released under the band name Love. Seven years after Love’s breakthrough LP Forever Changes, the guitarist and vocalist had been having a hard time finding his footing again. The new album didn’t change anything, failing to catch on and disappearing into obscurity.
With Love’s original lineup long dissolved, Reel to Real featured a group of excellent studio musicians who’d recorded the unreleased album Black Beauty with Lee two years before and clearly absorbed the songwriter’s sensibility.
The best songs on Reel to Real are small gems of funky soul and lo-fi rock: the smooth R&B of “Time is Like a River,” the driving horn-dressed funk of “Good Old Fashion Dream,” the hard-rocking “Busted Feet,” the sparkling acoustic “Everybody’s Gotta Live.”
Others are modest little numbers, like “You Said You Would” with its psychedelic slide-guitar groove, the trippy “Which Witch is Which,” and the shouter-ballad “Stop the Music.”
On a few tunes, like “Be Thankful for What You Got” and the pointed funk number “Who Are You,” Lee’s vocals sound tired and even a little bit “out of it” – even when the music is jumping. (And the band does give quite a funk clinic on the latter track.)
But over the album as a whole, it’s hard to deny that “Love got the power,” as Lee shouts on “With a Little Energy.”
Maybe Lee was a master of too many sounds and styles. For whatever reason, he and the band secured a less prominent place in the pop-culture pantheon than did some of their contemporaries. When I hear him talked about today, most often it’s by musicians acknowledging his influence and their respect for the strength and range of his work.
As Fricke writes in the liner notes, “From the start, Arthur made music on both sides of pop’s color line.” The son of a white trumpeter and a black schoolteacher, Lee “founded a band literally in his biracial image: the riveting, original Love, fusing the jangling reveille of L.A. folk-rock and the British Invasion with Chicago blues and proto-punk noir.” There really isn’t anyone else from the classic rock era of whom the same can be said.
The four “outtakes” – songs never before released – won’t change history’s verdict on Arthur Lee and Love. They range from infectious to forgettable. Notable among the other additional tracks are an acid-rocking extended version of “Busted Feet,” an extra-funky alternate mix of “With a Little Energy,” and a loose, laid-back alternate take of “Stop the Music” complete with some goofing around. While not essential, these are nice to have.
For fans of the band or even just the music of the era, this release is well worth having, especially since most people won’t even know the original 11 tracks. CD and digital versions are available now, and vinyl is coming out February 19.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B015HIYGUO]