The World of Arthur Russell
Styles: light avant-garde jazz, disco, no wave, synth pop, folk
Others: Larry Levan, Talk Talk, The Rapture, !!!, Nick Drake
A lot of respect is in order here for Soul Jazz Records, who continually represent the lost sounds of the dance genre(s). Whether it's dub, reggae, ska, disco, funk, or a culmination of all the above, these music archeologists always dig up some of the finest forgotten rarities on the planet. When the label re-introduced the fine music of A Certain Ratio in 2002, they opened the eyes and ears of many music lovers to an interesting, yet departed, variety of music that I'll simply call disco-punk-funk. Soul Jazz Records is back again this year with a posthumous release of Arthur Russell's avant-garde and late-disco works.
Arthur Russell was born in Iowa, studied in California, and eventually became part of the artistic, and always interesting, New York scene of the late 70s/early 80s. This particular release, appropriately titled The World of Arthur Russell, focuses on his entire catalog from the early days of disco and no-wave to the more obscure avant-garde jazz pieces. Since Russell only released a minimal amount of records, the styles of these songs change on a rather frequent basis -- sometimes even shifting back and forth between genres, rather than showing a natural progression of sound. Regardless, they all perfectly represent his love of carefree music.
As the album begins with "Go Bang," we are immediately reminded that Russell changed a lot musically over the course of his career. This particular song highlights the very early stages of his no-wave influences, before his use of cello became popular. We're immediately taken into the next era of his catalog with the bouncing bass, cheesy vocals, and minimal disco flair of "Wax the Van." "Is It All Over My Face," the most disco-heavy song here, is also one that will most likely appeal to those familiar with the current rash of funk-punk bands such as !!!, LCD Soundsystem, and The Rapture. It contains all the signature sounds such as hand-clapping drums, disco-funk bass, and roller-skating vocals.
For the remainder of the album, however, we are introduced to Russell's more mellow, jazz-oriented songs. "Keeping Up" and "In the Light of the Miracle" share the same basic structures when they lose the disco vibe and focus more on cello, acoustic guitar, and Russell's vocals. The second of these two tracks is actually quite long, clocking in at just over 13-minutes of subtle electronics and traditional instruments. The most charming track, "A Little Lost," is a film director's wet dream for a potential soundtrack. It almost sounds as if I've heard it in about twenty movies in my life but eventually finding out that it has never been in a movie. The lyrics are intimate and quirky, yet are very affective and reflect someone who just simply wants to be loved. As the remixes begin ("Let's Go Swimming," "In the Cornbelt," and "Schoolbell/Treehouse"), several musicians place emphasis on the dance club aesthetic of Russell's music. It actually takes quite a bit away from the music, if you ask me.
All in all, most of The World of Arthur Russell is quite charming. It does a great job highlighting the overall progression of his music, but there are also moments where it tends to fall out of focus. Although the remixes are meant to be odes to the musician himself, they take away from the flow of the album. I understand why they were added to the tracklisting, but I could personally do without them. If you want to get a better idea of what Russell's catalog has to offer, try to find his albums somewhere else. Since this can be a fairly costly task, this album will at least give you enough of Arthur Russell until then.
1. Go Bang
2. Wax the Van
3. Is It All Over My Face
4. Keeping Up
5. In the Light of the Miracle
6. A Little Lost
7. Pop Your Funk
8. Let's Go Swimming
9. In the Cornbelt