Album Reviews

Arthur Lee & Love

Coming Thru To You: The Live Recordings (1970 - 2004)

Artist:     Arthur Lee & Love

Album:     Coming Thru To You: The Live Recordings (1970 - 2004)

Label:     Rockbeat Records

Release Date:     11/20/2015

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One of the most enigmatic and yet iconic individuals of the modern rock era, Arthur Lee of Love never got the (ahem) love he and the band deserved early on. One of the most experimental and forward thinking bands to emerge from the paisley pop environs of mid ‘60s Los Angeles, the band was not only the first to be truly racially integrated, but was also one of the most daring, fearlessly blending elements of rock, baroque pop, classical and progressive jazz in a way that literally defied definition. Lee’s reluctance to tour limited their reputation to the immediate parameters of Sunset Strip and a largely local fan following, but, by and large, Love’s reputation grew with Lee’s increasing legend. Happily, belated appreciation came later, as affirmed by such stalwart supporters as Robert Plant and Doors guitarist Robby Krieger, among others.

Early Love albums like Four Sail, Da Capo and Forever Changes, set the standard and remain classics of the era, but when the original band broke up in 1969, Lee completely refigured the group and took a much different direction, abandoning his early penchant for pop and replacing it with a muscular form of strict R&B. By the time the new Love released Reel To Real, the last album to bear the group’s collective handle until Lee’s tentative comeback in 1992, all traces of the original sound had dissipated entirely, substituting in its place a funk and soul, much of it influenced by Otis Redding, James Brown, the JBs and the radio-ready urban rumblings of the day.

Nevertheless, any record of Love performing live remains relatively scarce, despite a spate of recent reissues, that include an expanded version of the aforementioned Reel to Real album and the much heralded Black Beauty, which had never been issued in any form prior to 2014’s belated release. Assorted live discs have appeared over the years, including a recording of Forever Changes captured live in a monumental concert in London, but up until now, documentation of Love’s various incarnations has been elusive at best and incomplete at worst.

That makes Coming Through To You: The Live Recordings (1970-2004) a real treasure for Love fans, as well as anyone else looking to first discover Lee’s undeniable genius. Divided into four discs — the first three marking the decades of the ‘70s, the ‘90s and the 2000s (Lee was basically absent for much of the ‘80s due to struggles with his personal demons), and a fourth consisting of fan recordings — this beautiful box set offers an excellent overview of the various phases in Love’s development following the dissolution of the original line-up. (Sadly, Lee’s decision not to tour early on put limits on the amount of concert material available from that era.) It’s a fascinating anthology, and though the sound quality is lacking at some points, it’s all but essential. The ‘70s disc suffers from Lee’s decision to abandon the pristine sounds of his earlier ensemble for the hard rock indulgence he transitioned to circa 1969 and 1970, but the acoustic tracks that dominate disc two, and his enlistment of the band Baby Lemonade (and original Love guitarist Bryan MacLean on assorted occasions) makes the remainder of the music far more potent. Indeed, when he tackles older material like “Andmoreagain,” “Along Again Or,” “She Comes in Colours,” “Signed D.C.” and “Maybe the People Would Be the Times Or Between Clark and Hillsdale” on discs two and three, the image of Lee as a truly remarkable early auteur becomes all the more evident.

Suffice it to say, any opportunity to hear Lee performing in his prime allows this Love to be shared in the fullest way possible.

-Lee Zimmerman

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