Thursday, May 31, 2007

Love - The Blue Thumb Recordings (Review)

I got my package from Hip-O Select yesterday that included the Love Blue Thumb Recordings 3 CD set. Kudos to Hip-O Select for releasing this material, and for the fast shipping. First the good news: the sound quality is very good. Producer Bill Levenson and mastering engineer Suha Gur did not make any attempt to re-write history. For better or worse, Out Here and False Start sound pretty much like the original LPs, which in my opinion is a good thing. Hip-O got the most important part of the project right--the sound.

I do have a couple of complaints though. First, $40 + $8 shipping makes this a fairly expensive purchase, and the packaging could have been more deluxe. I had hoped the CDs would be housed in slipcase replicas of the original LPs, but instead they are packaged in a very plain tri-fold digipak, with a rather skimpy jewel case insert. The liner notes by Dave Thompson are short, do not go into much depth, and contain a couple obvious inaccuracies. Please keep in mind I know nothing about the realities of how to make a profit off music in an era of declining sales, so my complaints, though minor, are likely churlish.

Of course the music is what's really important. Disc one features the double LP Out Here in its entirety. I've already told you what I think about the music on Out Here: it's frustratingly uneven. That said, it's nice to have the convenience of a "skip" button when listening to it, so I'm happy to have a copy on CD.

Disc two features False Start, Love's second and final Blue Thumb LP. For this album Lee assembled yet another new Love lineup. Gary Rowles replaced lead guitarist Jay Donnellan, and Noony Ricket was added on rhythm guitar and sometimes rather prominent backing vocals. Frank Fayad (bass) and George Suranovich (drums) stuck around from the previous incarnation of the band.

False Start is best-known for the Jimi Hendrix guitar solo that graces the lead off track, "The Everlasting First," which partly obscures the fact that the album finds Lee moving away from heavy (white) psychedelic rock and toward an embrace of (black) soul music. That transition would not be complete until Reel To Real, but Lee lets his blackness come "shining through" on soulful tracks such as "Keep On Shining," "Flying," "Anytime," and "Feel Daddy Feel Good."

Unlike the spotty Out Here, False Start is a consistently good record. It is also much shorter, clocking in at less than 30 minutes. It's an enjoyable listen from start to finish. A single live track "Stand Out" originally featured on Out Here, and recorded at a February 1970 UK gig, suggests that Love Mach 2.5 was one heck of a live act.

Which brings me to the final disc of this package; a live CD featuring previously unreleased material recorded on the same 1970 UK tour. Considering how excellent the live version of "Stand Out" featured on False Start is, I found the live disc mildly disappointing. Although I have no evidence for this beyond what my ears tell me, listening to the newly uncovered live material suggests that the False Start version of "Stand Out" was subjected to some rather extensive studio sweetening. First of all, there is the matter of Lee's voice: there is clearly a different, less reverberant, acoustic surrounding his voice on "Stand Out" than on the material on the live disc (some of which was recorded at the same February 27 show). Also, something sounds mildly off about Lee's voice on the newly uncovered live material, it sounds like he had a tooth pulled or something. The False Start version of “Stand Out” also features some rather polished backing vocals that are entirely absent from the live recordings featured on Disc three of this set. Make of that what you will.

The quirk to Lee's voice is mildly distracting, but the band sounds good throughout. It's interesting to hear some of the material from Forever Changes and Da Capo played by this band, although it is fairly obvious they were much more at home playing the less subtle, heavier material like "August," "Good Times" and "Singing Cowboy." The final track, a much more efficient version of "Love Is More Than Words Or Better Late Than Never" than the eleven-plus minute version featured on Out Here, really shows what this band was capable of live.

Despite the fact that I was mildly disappointed with this set, it's still an excellent addition to any Love fan's collection, particularly if you do not already own the two featured studio LPs already. Whether the live material from 1970 is enough to justify purchase for the true fanatic is not for me to decide. I have no regrets.


Anonymous said...

nice review. i'm looking forward to this. i already have the compilation CD "out there" and "studio/live". i always assumed that it contained the best of "out here" and you have confirmed that. but i'm pleased to hear that "false start" is good throughout. but really, i was primarily interested in the live set. i had thought for some reason that the live tracks on "studio/live" were from the fillmore east shows. after ordering this yesterday i discovered the sound clips on amazon. when i heard the awful examples of "nothing" and "orange skies", i thought... "uh oh". but being a huge arthur lee fan, i'm quite sure there will be plenty to like here. i wonder if the fillmore show will ever see the light of day?

Pete Bilderback said...

I guess that is another possible complaint--they could have included the Filmore East material from Studio/Live as well.

I didn't think "Orange Skies" worked very well in this context. The band just doesn't sound into it. I think these guys wanted to rock out and jam a bit, and that's what they're best at.

The sound clips on Amazon are very low-fi (probably compressed to around 32 kps), the CD sounds much better.

Anonymous said...

here is some rare live footage of "doggone" and "august" from 1970.

Anonymous said...

I agree completely re: the liner notes. The most pedestrian set of notes I've read in a long time. Had he ever heard of the band before writing the notes? Reads like it was written overnight.

Pete Bilderback said...

Yeah, the liner notes give no insight at all, and don't appear to have been proofread (there are a few really obvious mistakes). And why try to give an overview of Love's Elektra career at all? Anyone buying this set already knows all about that period (apparently better than the guy who wrote these notes). It's a minor thing, but something that Rhino would have gotten right.

Anonymous said...

if my copy doesn't show up today, i will go insane.

btw,it really pissed me off to pay texas sales tax on an internet purchase. this is the worst kind of highway robbery. outrage me with inflated shipping/handleing.

but don't insult me.

Pete Bilderback said...

Hang in there! Funny, I don't think I had to pay RI taxes on my purchase. Also, I got it very quickly, but it only had to ship from CT.

Anonymous said...

i received my copy yesterday. the live CD could have been better, but i'm not gonna complain. we're lucky to get anything. seems like rowles was often holding back on that. i was hoping for something along the lines of that masterful playing on "singing cowboy" from the filmore show. george suranovich is on fire throughout though. that guy is the best drummer nobody has ever heard of. he really propels "bummer in the summer" to a new level. i also really liked some of the tracks on "false start" that i hadn't heard before. as far as the remastering, i didn't detect a difference in quality from my copy of the CD compilation "out there".
i'll have to A/B 'em to make sure though. all in all, i'm pleased with this purchase and would definitely buy it again despite the cost. what i'd like to see now is a release of the complete filmore set.

on a seperate note, have you ever heard the live performance of "stephanie knows who?" by The Move?

it's available as a bonus track on "shazaam". also included is a cover of spooky tooth's "sunshine help me"


Pete Bilderback said...

For some reason the only Move album I have is "Message From The Country" which is probably not their best, although I really like "Do Ya" and "California Man." "I Can Hear The Grass Grow" and "Fire Brigade" I have from the the Nuggets II box-set, and they are fantastic psych-pop singles. I guess I need to pick up some more stuff.

I actually like ELO a lot in small doses: "Livin' Thing," "Mr. Blue Sky," "Boy Blue," "Telephone Line," "Evil Woman," love 'em.