Music Monday: Arthur Russell

After a long hiatus I’m going to revive Music Monday on this blog. It’s a good icebreaker for the week!

I’ve been exploring the music of Arthur Russell over the last few months. I first heard of him when I heard a cover of his song “Get Around To It” on a solo album by Tracey Thorn, the voice of Everything But The Girl. A few months later, I heard his version and found some of his music on iTunes.

Russell was an unconventional singer/songwriter, with an unusual voice. During his early career he wrote several disco songs. “Tell You” was a song he wrote as part of a disco collaboration, Loose Joints.

In Russell’s music and his approach, I see (and hear) parallels to musicians and songwriters like Radiohead and Andrew Bird, especially in some of his later music – layers of sound and atmosphere that are catchy, and yet don’t exist within the boundaries of a three-and-a-half minute pop song. One of my favorites is “Make 1, 2.”

Russell was apparently a legend or sorts in New York – a closely guarded man who, when seen in public, was often listening to his own music so he could rework and tweak it. He may have been deep into disco music, but he was also a trained classical musician and tried to merge those worlds (much as Bird now does with rock/pop, violin and whistling).

Russell died in 1992 of AIDS, and it’s been in just the last few years that his work has been rediscovered. There’s a documentary of his life and work, Wild Combination, that I’m hoping to see soon. This is a trailer for the film:

The music is so intriguing and quirky and alive to me. And there’s something compelling about his life story, as well. There’s something very Beethoven-esque about music being both Russell’s joy as well as the thing that made him slightly mad.

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