The World of Arthur Russell
he music of Arthur Russell happens to be one of those obscure gems limited to whomever can afford a murderous bidding war on e-Bay or are privy to exceptional file sharing sites. It’s odd, too, as Russell has garnered acclaim from the likes of Phillip Glass, Allen Ginsberg, and David Toop. At last someone (the Soul Jazz label) has caught on to the importance of re-releasing music from this important artist. Material on World of Arthur Russell consists of excerpts from various 12” dance releases throughout the 80’s; Another Thought released in the early 90’s and one track from his visionary album World of Echo released in 1986.
The dance tracks on World of… are collaborations, or remix projects Russell released under various aliases such as Dinosaur, Loose Joints and Lola remixed by dance producers like Larry Levan, Francois Kervorkian and Walter Gibbons. Dance cuts like “Go Bang”, “Wax the Van” and “School Bell/Tree House” tend towards disco territory with elements of jazzy soul-funk that could easily be mixed into a house set. There is a strong sense of playfulness on these tunes, making it obvious that Russell and friends had just as much fun creating these tracks as club-goers had dancing to them. “Keeping Up” and “A Little Lost” were taken from Russell’s more traditional singing/song writing album Another Thought, released after his premature death from AIDS in 1992. Acoustic cello melds with acoustic guitars to form perfect pop songs with a folksy tinge and catchy melodies. “Tree House” is the only track from Russell’s starker yet brilliant World of Echo. Like the rest of the album, “Tree House” is comprised of cello and vocals saturated with treatments and effects, leaving the impression of being visited by a ubiquitous yet quirky ghost in a dark room.
Though the genres may vary on World of Arthur Russell, there are threads of commonality: Russell’s unmistakable whimsical voice, sonorous cello notes and experimental edge. Though his music may be unconventional, it is also deeply intimate and endearing, plucking the heart strings and stirring the soul.
World of Arthur Russell is something of a musical hors d’ouvre platter, offering various flavors from his musical repertoire. For those not familiar with Russell’s work, this release could be considered inconsistent, akin to placing the sweets next to the caviar. The selections were each taken from a different creative point in the artist’s life, so the song track listings are out of context. A more balanced track selection would perhaps be preferable. That being said, the beauty and genius of Russell is in no way diminished, though an album for album re-release might have been a better choice for those already enthralled by his music.
Reviewed by: I. Khider
Reviewed on: 2003-12-17