Russell makes a Red Hot return
Arthur Russell was a musician ahead of his time – but his time may finally have come
It may be time for an Arthur Russell revival. Master Mix: Red Hot + Arthur Russell is the latest album in the Red Hot series and features Hot Chip, Sufjan Stevens, Robyn, Glen Hansard, José González, Blood Orange and others performing Russell’s tunes.
Russell (right) was the wide-eyed, classically trained kid from Iowa who became a leading figure in New York’s downtown experimental and disco scenes. While he worked with Talking Heads, Philip Glass, Allen Ginsberg and many more, what makes him so fascinating is that his work crossed so many boundaries.
Search his back-catalogue and you’ll find fine examples of avant-garde classical, early house and disco and spine-tingling folk music. You can be sure acts such as LCD Soundsystem, Owen Pallett, Antony & The Johnsons and Panda Bear have lent an ear over the years to his work
One of the reasons why Russell has remained so unheralded is that most of his work only came to public notice after his death from Aids in 1992 at the age of 40. A prolific musician in the studio who left behind reels of music, Russell wasn’t great at actually finishing the work. Only one album, World Of Echo (1986), was released while he was alive and that sounded nothing like the music he was associated with up to that point. Rough Trade reissued the album in 2005, but that did little to expand his fame.
But there have been several documents about Russell of late to cast some more light on his music and legacy. Matt Wolf’s Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell (2008) documentary and Tim Lawrence’s Hold On To Your Dreams biography a year later have given fans valuable insights into his life and now comes the Red Hot tribute.
For a man viewed as out of time when he was alive, it seems now that Russell was simply ahead of his time.