The late Arthur Russell was a virtuoso cellist who later branched out into making beautiful, sparse experimental music - and some twisted disco bangers, too. Russell was famous for churning out a prodigious amount of music and yet never finishing most of it. After his death, tapes were discovered with dozens of mixes of the same tune.
Which makes it entirely appropriate that his old label, Rough Trade, is releasing this EP of four covers in the year which marks the 55th anniversary of his birth. Born Charles Arthur Russell Jr in Iowa, he moved to New York and worked with everyone from Phillip Glass to David Byrne before his death from HIV in 1992.
*Joel Gibb *from The Hidden Cameras echoes Russell's mid-period mournful tones on his gentle, acoustic guitar and piano version of ‘That's Us / Wild Combination’. Gibb makes it sound like Russell has created an effortless, uplifting pop classic; which is an unexpected turn.
Former singer with The Concretes, Victoria Bergsman, takes a more predictable route on her cover of ‘Make 1,2’. Under her solo pseudonym Taken By Trees, she whispers over delicate finger-picked guitar and loose, jazzy cello.
Where Bergman opens the door marked 'skewed', Jose Gonzalez collaborator* Jens Lekman *kicks it down. The Swede opts for wonky xylophone and synthesised starbursts as the underlay for his echoey, inspired Morrissey-esque vocal tribute to the track ‘A Little Lost’.
Verity Sussman's voice sounds more ethereal and a lot less annoying than on Electrelane records as she covers ‘Our Last Night Together’. Maybe it's because she's going under a pseudonym, too: this time it's Vera November. Along with a simple piano refrain, it's quite a haunting proposition.
One suspects that Russell would blush at such a tribute, but nonetheless be quietly approving of the project and the end result.
7Chris Beanland's Score