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Arthur Russell - Springfield

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Artist: Arthur Russell

Album: Springfield

Label: Audika

Review date: Sep. 19, 2006

When Arthur Russell died of AIDS complications in 1992, he left behind a scattered body of work that negotiated a then largely unseen middle ground between minimalist composition, unabashed pop, and ebullient disco rhythm. Heard and adored by far too few during his brief lifetime, a renewed interest in all things “mutant disco” that began around the turn of the century sparked a much needed re-appraisal of significant chunks of Russell’s work. While labels like Soul Jazz and Strut focused on anthologizing his more dance-oriented and well-known pieces, New York’s Audika label concentrated on his less beat-savvy material and a head-first plunge into the stacks of unreleased recordings that were unearthed posthumously. An all too brief mini-album, Springfield combines two different takes on one of the last tracks Russell ever wrote with a few gems rescued from a completed but never released full-length.

Russell began working on “Springfield” in 1988, recording hours of basic tracks in the hopes of finishing the piece with a different producer. The Springfield EP aims admirably to fulfill that desire, pulling in the highly touted DFA duo to complete the task. Presented first is a rough mix of Russell’s basic tracks, all reverb-heavy drum beats and plaintive cello lines that mix with his bright vocal refrains and Peter Zummo’s forlorn trumpet stabs. It’s a wonder that Russell felt the need to work with another person to finish the tune, for as it stands here the unadorned version is Russell at his melancholic, disco-frantic best. For their version, James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy go the understated route, choosing simply to give more definition to Russell’s kick drums while allowing the rest of the track to speak for itself. The DFA remix comes across as a tastefully restrained redirection that opens the original piece up to some dub-worthy spaciousness before Russell’s sky-high vocal melodies bring the track to a blissful climax.

The remainder of the disc plucks four tracks from Russell’s aborted 1985 album Corn. While some of the tracks from these sessions have already been released on Audika’s excellent Calling Out of Context disc, the four included here have are issued for the first time. “See My Brother, He’s Jumping Out (Let’s Go Swimming #1)” is an early version of the classic “Let’s Go Swimming,” a track that became an underground hit as a 12” and a hauntingly integral part of the masterful (and beatless) World of Echo full-length. Much in the way that Albert Ayler pursued successive and wildly different versions of the track “Ghosts” throughout his career, Russell explored this basic idea in a series of variants that never played the idea the same way twice. Here the track is distinctly manic, all jumbled polyrhythms and bass throbs that buttress pulsing keyboards and passionate cello cuts. Even at their most despairing, Russell’s lyrics always retained a waifish sense of innocence, and here his words are no different as he invites anyone who might be listening to bathe in the iridescent glow cast off from his drum machines and cello. The instrumental “Corn #3” follows in much the same vein, only this time placing an emphasis on tracing the dazzling skyward ascent of Russell’s strings.

“Hiding Your Present From You” is another track that emerged in a more stripped down form on World of Echo. Though here the song gets the full beat treatment, it still retains that relentless optimism and winsome beauty that came across in Russell’s solo cello version. Building quickly from voice and drums to full sweeps of cello and keys, it’s a wonder this take stayed buried as long as it did.

It remains to be seen just how much more is buried in Arthur Russell’s archives, but if tracks like these are any indication of the material that never saw a proper release, here’s to hoping there’s plenty more in the pipeline. Forming a neat contrast to the more experimental and singer-songwriter based sides of Russell that have already been rescued from the vaults, Springfield’s joyous bounce proves that Russell’s work has no real nadir. The good folks at Audika should be given a Nobel Prize.

By Michael Crumsho

Other Reviews of Arthur Russell

The Sleeping Bag Sessions

The World of Arthur Russell

Calling Out Of Context

World of Echo

First Thought Best Thought

Another Thought

Love is Overtaking Me

Read More

View all articles by Michael Crumsho

Find out more about Audika

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