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Calling Out of Context

Arthur Russell

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Album Review

Like Another Thought, released ten years prior, Calling out of Context stitches together an hour's worth of songs left behind by the late, increasingly known — and therefore unceasingly beloved — Arthur Russell. According to liner notes from Audika's Steve Knutson, the content here pulls from a finished 1985 album that never made it past the test-pressing phase, along with an unfinished LP that was recorded and toyed with throughout the latter half of the '80s and the dawn of the '90s. Despite the multiple sources, the consistency of the tracks — which all carry a hazy, memories-of-events-that-never-happened feel — and the sympathetic sequencing make the disc seem more like a proper album than a vault-clearing compilation. If you're familiar with the sound that Russell and his accomplices made on singles like "Let's Go Swimming" and Indian Ocean's "School Bell/Treehouse," you'll be familiar with the sound here. On these recordings, Russell (who plays cello, guitar, keyboards, and percussion) is joined primarily by Mustafa Ahmed and Peter Zummo, and the three of them produce an abstract cross between pop and R&B, constructed with drum machines and more organic instrumentation on top. None of these songs woo a crowd of dancers as so many of Russell's short-lived aliases did before; instead, they're more rooted in song-based pop. This goes for the structure of the tracks, and it also goes for the subject matter of the lyrics. One of the greatest joys of listening to these songs is the regular presence of Russell's gentle, somewhat timid voice, which delivers one heartwarming line after another. If you're thinking this might possibly resemble a shoestring-budget, avant-garde version of Jam & Lewis, you're not too far off. With the many hats Russell wore, Calling out of Context should hammer home the fact that he was also a dynamite writer of heart-on-sleeve love songs — not just a formidable cellist and innovative disco producer.

Biography

Born: 1952 in Oskaloosa, IA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s

Arthur Russell was a formally trained cellist and composer with a background in Indian classical music, and a résumé highlighted by collaborations with Allen Ginsberg and Philip Glass. His involvement in Manhattan's downtown performance scene of the '70s resulted in a long-running association with the Kitchen. The same Arthur Russell was also a quirky songwriter, a producer of one-shot disco singles, a founding partner of seminal hip-hop/dance label Sleeping Bag, and a principle designer of the dubby,...
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Calling Out of Context, Arthur Russell
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