Release Date: Nov 11, 2014
Record label: High Moon
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Hard Rock, Psychedelic/Garage, Acid Rock
Arthur Lee’s career was marked with missed opportunities, self-sabotage and plenty of plain old shitty luck. Just as his band Love was on the ascendant following the release of their 1967 masterwork Forever Changes, the group fractured due to drugs and infighting. His efforts to move forward with a different lineup were met with indifference, and a potentially lucrative deal with Columbia Records in the early ‘70s was scuttled by his own narcotics use and erratic behavior.
Arthur Lee’s 70s recordings tend to get short shrift, largely because he’d abandoned the style of the original Love – and Forever Changes in particular. Lee was always dogged by a public perception of what obsessed fans expected of him, but now we can finally reappraise his chequered work between 1970 and ’75. Following 2009’s Lost Love (the abandoned CBS sessions), at long last we have the first official outing for Black Beauty.
It’s tempting to play what-if with Love’s lost labor, Black Beauty, which was recorded in 1973 but shelved for nearly four decades. What if Buffalo Records hadn’t gone out of business just prior to the album’s release? What if Black Beauty had actually hit stores? What if it hadn’t languished in limbo until years after Arthur Lee’s death? Would it have stopped Love’s slide into obscurity? Would it have signaled a comeback for the man who masterminded Forever Changes, still one of the most complex and compelling artifacts of 1960s Los Angeles? Would his life and career have played out any differently? Would we think of him today as something other than a cult artist, inspired as well as damned by his era? It’s difficult to imagine any answers to those questions, but it says a lot about Lee that the album even raises these what-ifs and coulda-beens. The very qualities that made him such a fascinating voice-- restlessness, excitability, paranoia, perfectionism, single-mindedness-- may have doomed any commercial prospects more than his notorious fear of travel ever did.
Black Beauty was recorded in 1973 but never officially released on CD. Considering how much Love frontman Arthur Lee seemed to revel in sharing his music, there’s something sad about how this album sat on the shelf. Now that it’s been released on vinyl (originally in 2012) and on CD, we can finally enjoy this record and hear a whole new side of the Love sound.
In 1973, Arthur Lee's career seemed to be drifting without a clear direction; he'd broken up his band Love, his first proper solo album Vindicator didn't fare well with critics or record buyers, and he'd lost interest in playing live. However, in the spring of that year, Lee decided to take a new approach to his music; while Love had always been a racially integrated group, Lee told drummer Joe Blocker, "I want an all-black band. I want some cats that can play funky and rock." Lee assembled one such band, with Blocker on drums, Melvan Whittington on lead guitar, and Robert Rozelle on bass, and he was excited enough about what they were doing that he soon took them into the studio on his own dime.