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Love Is Overtaking Me

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Album Review

Since 2005, New York City's Audika imprint has dedicated itself to releasing the recordings of the late composer, cellist, and singer/songwriter Arthur Russell, a musical polymath who was as comfortable in the discos of Manhattan as he was in a cowboy hat in the fields as he appears here, on the cover of Love Is Overtaking Me. Audika has issued four albums — three different compilations centering on different aspects of his musical adventurousness, an EP, and his seminal World of Echo album. Love Is Overtaking Me contains 21 tracks recorded between 1974 and 1990. It reveals another dimension of this seemingly limitless musician: his pop and country-ish recordings, done solo as demos, in session with the brilliant John Hammond at Columbia, and with musicians from the East Village and downtown scenes including Peter Gordon Ernie Brooks, Andy Paley, Jerry Harrison, Steven Hall, Larry Saltzman, Jon Gibson, Jimmy Chamberlain, David Van Tieghem, and Peter Zummo. Some of these are rehearsal versions of tunes he performed and recorded with his bands the Flying Hearts and the Sailboats project with Hall.

Russell's companion Tom Lee wrote the liner notes to this set and discusses the sheer possibility for mass appeal in these songs; he's not exaggerating. Take a listen to the demo of the title track recorded with Hall on guitar, drummer Rob Shepperson, and conguero Mustafa Khaliq Ahmed. Its verse/chorus structure is woven straight from classic organic pop/rock melody — think a less twisted Jonathan Richman — and is utterly infectious. Elsewhere, in "I Couldn't Say It to Your Face," one can hear traces of John Lennon, James Taylor, and Randy Newman. Recorded by Hammond, this cut featured a full band with Gibson, Brooks, Gordon, Paley, trombonist Garrett List, and bassist Jon Sholle. The melody shimmers underneath a lyric that contains warmth, love, anger, and irony. The very next track, "This Time Dad You're Wrong," with a standard rock quartet, features a shuffling country rhythm under a melody that combines the sophistication of Big Star and the poetic directness of Willie Nelson. The latter is exaggerated a bit on the spoken/sung "What It's Like," but it's a story song and it works. The opening number, "Close My Eyes," is a pure country waltz, with Russell accompanying himself on a guitar — he was almost as deft on it as he was on cello. These tunes reflect Russell's California origins. But there's the other side too; the New York side in the rockin' "Big Moon" and "Janine," which, though utterly friendly and even beautiful, is a kind of fractured future pop that transcends its form. On "Love Comes Back," Russell accompanies himself with a cheap drum machine and keyboards; he closes the entire argument as to what he was about artistically no matter how wide-ranging his recordings were: he was a composer and songwriter who wished — and succeeded — to express tenderness, empathy, and gentleness in everything he did. Russell's music connected with so many of his peers — no matter what scene they were in — and with his posthumous listeners for that reason alone. Russell was 100-percent genuine, and as Ted Berrigan once wrote, "on the level, everyday." This is one of the finest chapters yet in Audika's continuing retrospective. Let's hope there is still more where this came from.

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. 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 principal designer of the dubby, underground...
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Love Is Overtaking Me, Arthur Russell
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