Graham Reid | | 1 min read
Curiously, it has only been in recent years that the British music press "discovered" Arthur Russell. But maybe not so curious: Russell died of Aids-related illnesses in '92 and although he left behind literally many hundreds of reels of recordings (everything from disco through experimental pop to Russell singing with just his cello for accompaniment) his work was little known beyond a New York cabal.
Although, even more oddly, Melody Maker had placed his album World of Echo in their top 30 albums of '86. But after that Russell slipped below the interest of the British media.
In the mid-Nineties the newly established Point Music label (supported by Philip Glass) released a collection of (mostly) just Russell and cello as Another Thought, and although the songs were drawn from all points in the Eighties the album had a hypnotic coherence.
Iowa-born Russell had moved first to California to study at the Ali Akbar Khan School in San Francisco where he met poet Allen Ginsberg (and accompanied him on some recordings) before heading out to New York in the mid-Seventies.
He performed his own songs at places like the Kitchen, played music composed for him by Glass, and premiered work by innovative composers like Jon Gibson and Christian Woolf. He also wrote and produced the disco single Kiss Me Again under the name Dinosaur and went on to release a few albums and singles in the genre.
But he kept the avant-art music end going and his lyrics became poetic and refined, his small ensemble or solo work referencing Indian classical music as much as experimental pop and Western traditions.
Russell moved easly between all these worlds -- and the '08 collection Love is Overtaking Me brought together songs delivered in a jaded alt.country style.
Russell's huge ouvre is always worth discovering, so maybe it matters not a jot that it has only been in the past few years he's been getting attention again. Any time is the right time to stumble upon Arthur Russell.
For more one-off, songs with an interesting backstory or oddities see From the Vaults.