Arthur Lee, released in 1981 by Rhino Records, is Arthur Lee's second solo album, or possibly his fourth if you count the unreleased Black Beauty (1973) and More Changes (1977), or his eighth if you consider everything after Forever Changes to be solo Lee. Whatever it is, it isn't very good.
It had been seven years since Lee had released his last album, 1974's under-rated Reel To Real, and it would be another eleven years before he would release anything else. Seven of the songs were intended for More Changes, and another five are unique to this album. All of it sounds half-baked.
Lee is featured with various musicians, some of whom had been featured in previous editions of Love (George Suranovich, Sherwood Akuna) as well as some newcomers (Velvert Turner, Joe Blocker, John Sterling). While all involved are decent musicians, the bands sound under-rehearsed, and the tracks under-produced. A little more effort on Lee's part would have gone a long way toward making this a better album.
The most puzzling thing here is the remake of "7 & 7 Is." This is a song that reputedly took the original Love upwards of 60 takes to get right due to Lee's perfectionism, but here it sounds as if it was re-recorded in a single take without rehearsal. It is almost as if Lee's intention is to tarnish his legacy. I don't generally go in for armchair psychoanalysis, but it would be easy to interpret this as an act of self-loathing.
Neverthless, there are some decent songs here. We now know that "I Do Wonder" had been an outtake from the Forever Changes sessions, so it's no surprise that it is the strongest song here. This take from 1977 with John Sterling, George Suranovich and Kim Kesterson, sounds much rougher than the string and horn laden Forever Changes outtake. "Stay Away From Evil" sounds like Lee's warning to himself, which--as he confides in the liner notes--is exactly what it is.
There is also some genuinely awful stuff here as well. The lead off track, "One" is a sad rip off of Bob Marley's "One Love" that takes Marley's simple, heartfelt sentiment and transforms it into something merely simple-minded. Like a lot of people between 1974 and 1981 Lee had clearly discovered reggae music, which can also be heard on "One And One" and his covers of The Bobbettes' "Mr. Lee" and Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers To Cross." When Lee sings he's been "licked, washed up for years,” he sounds like he means it, and it lends a certain poignancy to the song. But rather than make me forget Jimmy Cliff's version, Lee's rendition sent me searching for my copy of The Harder They Come. The reggae influence is a direction that might have been promising if Lee had only applied himself, but the lack of rehearsal/production really hurts this material.
In a nutshell this is Arthur Lee circa 1981, still talented, but extremely lazy and ultimately frustrating. Dave DiMartino's 1981 Creem interview with Lee just before this album was released is essential reading for anyone interested in Lee's career.