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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
LOVE – REEL TO REAL Deluxe Edition (High Moon Records LP, CD, D/L).
After a series of lacklustre records following their acknowledged absolute creative peak in 1967 with Forever Changes, by 1974, commercially, Love couldn’t get arrested (although on a personal level, with a turbulent and troubling lifestyle, Arthur Lee had no such problem). Serious drug issues had torn apart the line-up of the band that had recorded Forever Changes and what followed was a collection of records that rapidly declined in quality………………even the presence of Jimi Hendrix could not save False Start, a record that even the most ardent Love aficionados would consider a waste of vinyl. Reel to Real was the first official Love album in four years, and Arthur Lee recorded the album basically as a solo album with studio musicians after dismissing all previous members from the later incarnation of the band. It followed the release of Lee's solo album Vindicator in 1972 and two different Love albums that had been recorded but never released, which included Black Beauty which was shelved when Buffalo Records went out of business just prior to the album’s release. Arthur Lee had been knocking back the drinks in the last chance saloon when Canned Heat producer (amongst many other things) Skip Taylor, a long-time admirer of Lee, approached RSO Records, run by music entrepreneur Robert Stigwood (possibly best known for managing Cream and the Bee Gees), and convinced Stigwood to give the previously commercially unsuccessful Lee a two-album deal and the largest advance he would ever receive, followed by the biggest touring opportunity any incarnation of Love would ever embark on. Released in November 1974 Reel To Real was met with a mixture of indifference and hostility from the music press, however time has been kind and the mix of heavy funk, crunchy-guitar rock and soulful grooves has matured with age and this album deserves to be listened to with a fresh pair of ears. Available on CD/Digital for the first time and now back on LP after more than 40 years, Reel To Real gets a deluxe reissue from High Moon Records and it’s time to give this record a reappraisal. Having previously exhumed Black Beauty from the vaults it had been languishing in for nearly four decades and issuing it in sumptuous packaging, High Moon give Real To Reel the same treatment…….. this deluxe reissue features remastered audio from the original tapes, a 32-page booklet with an essay by Rolling Stone’s David Fricke plus a trove of candid, unpublished photos. Bonus tracks include 11 previously-unreleased tracks from the original sessions, including alternate takes and mixes, live-in-studio rehearsals, and 4 newly-discovered Arthur Lee originals.
Let’s be clear here right from the start, this is not another version of Forever Changes……it’s not meant to be. It could be argued that Forever Changes was a creative millstone around Arthur Lee’s neck, although a record of sheer pristine beauty that would comfortably be included in the top five of any list of the best 60s Psych albums, anything that Love recorded afterwards would always be compared to that classic album………….moving on was always going to be difficult, but the musical landscape had changed and Lee sought to distance himself from the sound of white psychedelic rock that had made him famous. This record is the sound of Arthur Lee rediscovering his black roots, recorded with the same studio band that played on Black Beauty (drummer Joe Blocker, guitarist Melvan Whittington, and bassist Robert Rozelle) who Lee referred to as “cats who can play funky and rock" along with a posse of session musicians, which included most notably guitarists Harvey Mandel and “Buzzy” Feiten along with the keyboardist Bobby Lyle. To a backdrop of bluesy guitars, a dynamic brass section, deep funk bass and clavinet, splashes of spacey synthesizer and sugar sweet female backing vocals, he brought his funkiest and most soulful collection of songs, digging deep into the blues, soul, and rock grooves that first inspired him. Reel To Real channels the conscious funk of Curtis Mayfield, the revolutionary soul music of Sly & The Family Stone, the visceral energy of Stax Records and the searing blues rock of Jimi Hendrix to create a solid album of 1970s soulful funky rock that features some of Arthur Lee’s best recorded songs since the late 60s……………it’s no masterpiece but thoroughly enjoyable all the same. Side 1 of the album is an exhilarating journey through the 60s/early 70s Soul/Funk landscape taking in along the way a Al Green gospel vibe on ‘Time Is Like a River’, mellow, Southern fried New Orleans blues on ‘Stop the Music’ and on to ‘Who Are You, a full on early 70s, seriously funky Stevie Wonder style workout complete with a blistering but soulful guitar solo from ace sessioner "Buzzy" Feiten. Being a Memphis boy, Arthur Lee was no doubt influenced by the early sixties Stax sound and ‘Good Old Fashion Dream’ is his take on the Otis Redding, Booker T vibe. The one real psychedelic track on Reel To Real is ‘Which Witch Is Which?’, a woozy, somnambulistic slice of narcotic blues which has the feel of the early acid head Funkadelic tunes with Harvey Mandel’s guitar sound turned upside down and twisted inside out. Closing with the Sly & The Family Stone groove of ‘With a Little Energy’ the first side of Reel To Real is the blackest Arthur Lee ever sounded. Although Side 2 of the album sees a slight drop in quality, there are still some absolute gems……..a cover of William DeVaughn’s then contemporary soul hit ‘Be Thankful for What You Got’(also covered by Massive Attack on Blue Lines) is brilliant and the funky country blues of ‘You Said You Would’ is a lost Lee classic. There is a feeling that by second side of the record ideas for songs were starting to run out as Lee revisits tracks from previous records……. skilfully reworked by the best session musicians a major label budget can hire and a powerful, intuitive band, recycled Lee songs on the LP included ‘Everybody’s Gotta Live’ and ‘Busted Feet’ (from Lee’s 1972 solo album Vindicator) and a reprise of ‘Singing Cowboy’ (from Love’s 1969 album Four Sail). As it is now the norm with deluxe reissues there are also mandatory bonus cuts……amongst the usual alternative versions, demo’s, single edits, studio jams etc that only a serious fan can truly love, High Moon have unearthed four songs recorded during the Reel To Real sessions but until now were previously unreleased. These songs (three fully-produced Hendrix inspired rockers and a more stripped down, laid back track which sounds like a Sly Stone demo recording ) were previously unknown to all but their original participants, and present a major addition to Arthur Lee’s catalogue. If you take this record on face value and strip it of the baggage of being a post Forever Changes Love album and consider Reel To Real as purely an Arthur Lee solo album where he is exploring his soul and funk influences, the absolute panning it got on release has to be seen as completely unfair. In hindsight, RSO marketing this record as a Love album was maybe a mistake.
Reel To Real was to be the last ever Love studio album and as sort of expected the relationship with RSO ended badly……. Promotional efforts to reintroduce Love to the record buying public via supporting slots on an Eric Clapton tour proved disastrous due to Lee's increasing erratic behavior and while in England, he insulted RSO chief Robert Stigwood publicly, effectively torching the label deal which was meant to restart his failing career. Arthur Lee essentially disappeared for the next 25 years before finally coming to terms with his demons and reconnecting with Forever Changes until his death in 2006, a fitting swansong to one of rocks nearly men.
Available on either CD, vinyl or as a digital download, the deluxe reissue of Reel To Real is out now and is available from the High Moon webstore and the usual online outlets… but we would prefer you support your local independent record store.