Arthur Lee had every reason to feel disenchanted with his career in 1974, as his harder rock moves on 1970's False Start and his 1972 solo debut Vindicator didn't please critics or fans and his deal with the fledgling Buffalo Records label left him with an unreleased album, Black Beauty, when the company abruptly crashed and burned. Lee had started dipping his toes into material with a stronger R&B edge on Black Beauty, and when RSO Records gave him another chance at a major-label deal, he dove in headfirst: in a Rolling Stone interview, Lee said Reel to Real was his effort to get "as black and funky as I can, man, on my music." If folks hoping for another Da Capo or Forever Changes weren't pleased with False Start or Vindicator, they were simply confused by Reel to Real's funk grooves and banks of horns and keyboards (not to mention a lineup that featured no previous members of Love but Lee). However, while the album has often been written off as a failure, Reel to Real is an album with more than its share of great moments, even if it's inarguably uneven. Lee's vocals are tough but eloquent on these tunes, and though the music is often rooted in deep funk (especially on the percolating "Who Are You" and "With a Little Energy"), blues ("Which Witch is Which"), and vintage R&B ("Stop the Music"), the fierce guitar work from Lee, Melvan Whittington, and John Sterling makes it clear Lee hadn't cut his ties to rock & roll. Psychedelia doesn't really play a part in this music, but the introspective twists of Lee's lyrics confirm he still had plenty to say about the world around him and the universe inside his mind. And the closing acoustic version of "Everybody's Gotta Live" (which first appeared on Vindicator) offered a brief glimpse of the sly, thoughtful hippie who had recorded Forever Changes just seven years earlier. Reel to Real plays more like an Arthur Lee solo effort than a Love album (and was blighted with a singularly ugly cover), but it's a good Arthur Lee album, with a tighter focus and a more thoughtful perspective than Vindicator, proving Lee still had a great deal to say even if his audience didn't care to listen.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming