In this day and age in which even CDs are largely treated as a relic from another era, it takes a unique obsession to specialize in vinyl LPs. The folks at High Moon Records are just that obsessed, not only choosing to release LPs, but LPs of two of the best long-unavailable records of the 1970s. One is Gene Clark’s Two Sides to Every Story, a 1977 release originally on RSO during that company’s disco success, a commercial flop but now one of the most sought-after releases not currently in print. Due to multiple delays securing rights and perfecting the masters, the final release is still in the future, but said to be imminent. Watch these pages for word on that, as well as my glowing review.
Out now, however, is Love’s previously unreleased Black Beauty. Originally recorded in 1973, and scheduled for release on the Buffalo label, the label folded before it was able to happen, leaving the record, that Love’s songwriter and auteur Arthur Lee was justifiably proud of, on the back burner. Seemingly lost to the ages, it was available for years only as a shoddy quality bootleg, unworthy of its solid reputation. After Lee’s death in 2006, however, original acetates were discovered, and with the help and blessings of Lee’s widow Diane, it is finally available in a limited vinyl edition of 5000.
That it’s finally out there, sounding crisp and freshly remastered, would be an accomplishment even if the music weren’t good. Fortunately, it is. The Love of Forever Changes may have been long gone (to be revived, quite successfully, years later), but his intelligence, intensity and eclecticism were undimmed. The extensive liner notes by Mojo writer Ben Edmonds tell the entire convoluted story of the album’s making, with Lee’s first all-black band, along with Lee’s own stated goal at the time of working with musicians well-versed in both rock and R&B. As eclectic as it may be, it’s also unquestionably a rock and roll record.
In an era in which a lot of rock bands were doing a very show-offy version of ‘blooze’, the three-chord opener “Young & Able (Good & Evil)” is impressively feral, as Lee spits out the lyrics and the band, particularly lead guitarist Melvan Whittington, plays with fury and abandon.
Whittington’s impressive guitar work shows a definite Hendrix influence- “Midnight Sun” could almost be an Electric Ladyland outtake- and just like a lot of LPs, it’s decidedly front-loaded, with the first side containing most of the best tracks. Those include a rocking cover of the folk standard “Walk Right In,” a hit for The Rooftop singers ten years earlier, the emotional slow-burner “Can’t Find It,” and “Skid,” co-written by Lee’s friend Riley Racer and poet Angela Rackley.
The second side, while contributing to the overall variety, is weaker, including “Beep Beep,” a psuedo-Carribean tune complete with steel pans that is a pleasant enough novelty, and “Stay Away” which probably sounded better in its original incarnation, dating back to the original band in the mid 60s. Other than those minor missteps, It might just be the band’s best post-Forever Changes record, and the band plays with real fire and simultaneous restraint. It might not have been a commercial hit had it been released at the time, but it certainly deserved to be more widely heard.
It also lays to rest the idea that Forever Changes was the last time he was truly on his game. Well-played and sung and inspired, the coolest thing about the record (which is 180-Gram vinyl and includes a download card) is that it looks, sounds and even smells like it might have in 1973. Better late than never, worth the wait, etc. And more, please.