Album Review: Arthur Lee & Love - Coming Through to You: The Live Recordings 1970-2004

By , Contributor

Though the Los Angeles band Love never achieved wide acclaim during their late-'60s heyday or later, that probably had less to do with their music than with group leader Arthur Lee’s personal demons and love/hate relationship with celebrity. Their albums—especially 1967’s classic Forever Changes, but also their self-titled debut as well as Da Capo and Four Sail—contain one wonderful performance after another and mark Lee as one of the greatest innovators of 1960s folk rock. His fascinating albeit cryptic lyrics combine beautifully with music that incorporates orchestration, brass, psychedelia, and soul. Capable of both explosive guitar-based hard rockers and folky ballads as delicate as the Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee,” he tapped influences ranging all the way from Jimi Hendrix to the Byrds to Mexican brass ensembles.

Until now, live Love has been in short supply. In 2003, only three years before Lee died of leukemia at age 61, he did assemble a new Love lineup that performed the entire Forever Changes album and more in a remarkable concert that is available on both CD and DVD. There are also a few live tracks on old Love albums, and there have been some poorly recorded relatively recent concert releases. What has been missing is a comprehensive and high-quality live set.

This four-CD collection fills that gap. Featuring liner notes by Rolling Stone’s David Fricke, the Doors’ Robby Krieger, and guitarist Mike Randle, whose band Lemonade backed Arthur Lee in his later years, the 61-track package includes material recorded during the 1970s (disc one), the 1990s (disc two), and the 2000s (disc three). Disc four, which features material dating from 1977 to 2004, is labeled “A Fan’s View,” which as far as I can tell means it consists of audience recordings. Occasionally (especially on portions of that fourth disc), the sound quality disappoints; but for the most part, it’s excellent.

Coming Through to You contains nothing recorded during the group’s peak years on vinyl because, as the liner notes point out, Love was more heard of than seen during the late 1960s. You will, however, find lots of songs here that first appeared on those glorious early albums. The band’s eponymous debut, which is often compared to the Byrds’ work from the same period, is well represented with performances of “My Flash on You,” “Signed D.C.” (acoustic and electric versions), “Can’t Explain,” “My Little Red Book,” and “Message to Pretty.” From the adventurous, psychedelic Da Capo, the group’s second album, come readings of “Orange Skies,” Que Vida,” “She Comes in Colors,” “7 and 7 Is,” and “Stephanie Knows Who”—nearly all of the disc’s essential tracks. Also here are versions of almost everything on the original Forever Changes plus such later standouts as  “Singing Cowboy,” “August,” and “Always See Your Face.” A few noteworthy covers are also on the bill, including Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” John Lennon’s “Instant Karma” (in a medley with Love’s “Everybody’s Gotta Live”), and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning.”

The energetic, emotional, and inventive performances are just what you’d expect from Lee, a man who, according to the liner notes, asked only one thing of guitarist Mike Randle “and if you can do that, you’ll have no problem from me.” The one thing: “Either play my music just like the record or play it better than the record.”

If you’re already a Love fan, you don’t need me to tell you that a four-CD set of well-recorded, career-spanning live music from the group is a must buy. The rest of you should probably start with the first three or four studio albums, after which you’re bound to want this, too. 

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Jeff Burger (byjeffburger.com), a longtime magazine editor, has written about music, politics, and popular culture for more than 75 periodicals. His books include Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon as well as Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches and Encounters and Leonard Cohen…

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