Friday, March 6, 2009
Arthur Russell in the Country
Arthur Russell's body of work continues to grow long after he left this world thanks to the good people at Audika Records. If known at all, Arthur's usually referred to in hushed tones by left-field disco enthusiasts for his David Mancuso Loft Party inspired jams such as "Go Bang" or "Is It All Over My Face" but his musical output was far broader than that excellent, but narrow slice of avant-pop. Arthur died of AIDS in 1992 and was creating music up until his final passing, but much of that output has yet to be heard by the public. Thanks to Audika records some of these recordings are being released and fans like me are eager to hear whatever comes out.
The latest release is "Love Is Overtaking Me" and collects recordings spanning his entire recording career from the early 1970s until 1991. What I like about this set of tunes is that they focus on more acoustic arrangements and the songs are shorter and more traditional in their pop song format with choruses and hooks, etc, but they are still distinctly different than most anything you'd ever hear on the Top 40 radio. Arthur's personality transcends any genre distinction and comes through in most everything he recorded.
These four songs are cherry-picked for their acoustic and country elements specifically for WW&W. They are also my favorites from this compilation, though there are many other great songs with more pop orientation and some synthesizers here and there. Listening to these tunes I can't help but compare Arthur's songwriting and vocal delivery to another fragile country boy who left us far too soon, Gram Parsons. The latter two songs also have a real country-soul feel with those horns much like some of Gram's cover tunes from the first Flying Burrito Brothers album.
Arthur Russell - Close My Eyes
Arthur Russell - Love Is Overtaking Me
Arthur Russell - I couldn't Say It To Your Face
Arthur Russell - Nobody Wants a Lonely Heart
If you are even vaguely moved by these songs or have heard of Arthur and wanna know more, I urge you to see the recent documentary, Wild Combination. It's a really touching tribute to this lost genius and an entertaining and compelling story. I particularly liked the parts with his heartland Iowa parents who still referred to him by his given name Charlie and who honestly admit they didn't care too much for his music while he was alive.