Love's stay on the Blue Thumb label for a couple of albums in the late '60s and early '70s wouldn't be rated by anyone as the high point in the band's career. Still, for those who want that material, this three-CD set includes both of the albums they released with the company, Out Here and False Start, as well as -- in what will be the big draw for collectors -- nearly an hour of previously unreleased recordings, all taped live in England in 1970. Though the two studio albums have their admirers, many Love fans find them frustrating listening, as they stack up poorly against the superior LPs they cut in the '60s, particularly their first three. Much of leader and principal singer/songwriter Arthur Lee's gift for melodic, idiosyncratic folk-rock with touches of flamenco, jazz, punky R&B and show tunes is still in evidence, but the songs simply aren't as strong or fully developed. As for his composing skills (though not his singing ones), it almost feels as though you're listening to a recuperating stroke victim -- some of the skillful thoughts and ideas are coming through, but only between cracks and in bits and pieces. There's also a disturbing bent toward hard rock that doesn't suit Lee's strengths (especially on False Start), and while the rest of Love are competent players, they don't push or complement Lee in the same way the original version of the band did in the mid-'60s. The live recordings that conclude the set aren't bad , and the sound quality's OK (though not perfect). In this concert segment, Lee and the band sing and play pretty well on songs spanning their entire career to that point, including a few ("My Little Red Book," "Orange Skies," "Andmoreagain," "Signed D.C.," and "Bummer in the Summer") from the earliest and most celebrated phase of their career. Those numbers are performed pretty credibly, albeit with a slight strange lisp on some of Lee's vocals. But as a whole the live arrangements are more likely to fly into pedestrian hard rock riffing than the early Love would, though more often than not those tendencies are kept in check.
It all adds up to an anthology that will appeal to some hardcore Love fans, but isn't one of the first places to start to appreciate the band's legacy.
The song cycle The Soul Fox by Lori Laitman, chronicling the dissolution of a marriage after infidelity in short, deft strokes, gets top billing on this release from the U.S. label Equilibrium Recordings. But Kansas-based soprano Julia Broxholm, in her own notes, offers the opinion that "there has never been a more exciting time for American song," and it's actually the program as a whole that's most compelling. There are two sets of very short songs, one by Ned Rorem, who certainly served as inspiration for the younger composers on the album.
The other is unique: a "Collection of Epitaphs and Elegies" by various composers, just a minute or two in length, filtering the basic idea through different prisms. Broxholm and pianist Russell Miller round out the program with contemporary songs by a male composer, Eric Ewazen, setting works of a female poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and an older group of songs by a female composer, Amy Beach, setting texts by Robert Browning. You can speculate on the influence of gender in these works, but the bottom line is that the program is unusually stimulating and coherent. Broxholm's voice will be a matter of taste: its size is well suited to these songs, but the pitch may be uncertain at times. An unusual recital recommended for those interested in American art song.