Forever Changes is such a universally acclaimed masterpiece it’s obscured the rest of Arthur Lee and Love’s output, especially work after the ’67 release of that album. Never more is this the case than the seventh and final album issued under the Love name, 1974’s Reel To Real, which only now, for the first time, makes it to CD (plus new vinyl version) thanks to a deluxe reissue package from High Moon Records.
Arthur never escaped the shadow of Forever Changes and his truculent personality and single-minded attitude meant he was going to do what the hell he wanted, not bend to the wishes of others and that included RSO president Bill Oakes who signed Arthur to his label. Providing Arthur with the biggest budget he’d ever worked with, Oakes, in the 32 page booklet/liner notes by David Fricke, holds his hands up. “I was chasing Arthur because of Forever Changes. I was banking on Arthur coming back with ‘Alone Again Or’. That was my romantic idea.” Oakes obviously failed to notice 'Alone Again Or' was Bryan Maclean's song but you catch his drift.
Arthur, naturally, had other ideas and delivered an album of soulful and funky R&B. Thanks, said no one. The record bombed, RSO tore up the contract for a second album, Lee never recorded for a major label again.
Coming off the back of a few patchy albums, the year it was made, the dreadful artwork, and its scarcity have all contributed to Reel To Real remaining unheard by even fans of Lee. I remember seeing it at a record fair many years ago and recoiling in horror at what I imagined it contained and threw it back in the box. But time, as it happens, has been kind. From this distance and listening now, Reel To Real is a hugely enjoyable album. It’s slick, consistent, Arthur is in tremendously soulful voice, and it grooves. Love, in all their incarnations, was always a multiracial band so excuse me to crudely suggest that if Forever Changes was their whitest rock album, Reel To Real is their blackest soul album.
“Time Is Like A River” eases in like Al Green, Arthur limbers up, backing vocals and horns then escalate to the top. It’s a terrific opener. These were LA horns but there’s a real Memphis via Muscle Shoals feel to much of the record. “Stop The Music” has an Otis Redding push and pull and “Good Old Fashioned Dream“stays in that bag; hear how Arthur sings “gotta”, pure Otis. “Who Are You?” is disco fever and as eyebrow-raising as that sounds, it works a treat and was strabgely overlooked as a single. This is an album of its time, 1974, but it’s a good album of its time. Arthur was moving with it and in the moment. Forever Changes, yeah? The clue was there.
“Which Witch Is Witch” takes a more bluesy approach, albeit with a sing-song melody, with a guest appearance of Harvey ‘The Snake’ Mandel providing a suitable slippery contribution. “With A Little Energy” struts with some funky clavinet insertions; “Singing Cowboy” is breezier and has a simpler arrangement than the one on Four Sail five years earlier whilst “Be Thankful For What You Got” has Arthur cruising the hills of LA covering the beautiful Curtis Mayfieldesque William De Vaughn song which was riding high in the R&B charts. “You Said You Would” bounces along and “Busted Feet” provides the most out-and-out rock moment with traces of Arthur's old pal Jimi Hendrix. “Everybody’s Gotta Live” ends the party by the camp fire up in the hills of Laurel Canyon.
If all that wasn’t enough, this deluxe edition features an additional twelve tracks including four never before heard songs (the vinyl edition sticks to the original tracklisting but provides a download code for the extras). Few will claim Reel To Real as one of the greatest LPs ever made but it’s less intense, more focused and has a freshness lacking in Love’s Out Here and False Start; here Arthur Lee is relaxed, having fun, chilling and busting some moves. And all with a little twinkle in his eye.
Reel To Real is released on CD/LP by High Moon Records on 19 February 2016.