Various Four Songs By Arthur Russell

Various <i>Four Songs By Arthur Russell</i>
The last three years has seen a string of reissues help raise awareness of Arthur Russell, the late composer who rose up through New York City’s ’70s underground to make significant contributions to the avant-garde, disco and to a lesser extent, leftfield pop music. While he was often noted for his cello expertise and unique studio experiments (the rich, exquisite textures of 1986’s World of Echo is his masterpiece), Arthur’s innovations as an individualist producer and sound sculptor often overshadowed his gift for writing beautifully poignant songs.

Looking to show his appreciation after covering Arthur’s "A Little Lost” for a number of years, Jens Lekman contacted Victoria Bergsman to discuss releasing an EP — not an album because as he says "tribute albums are boring in my opinion and tend to lose focus halfway through” — of covers with some friends. It’s taken a few years, but Lekman and his pals have assembled a handsome tribute to their hero that spotlights Arthur’s skill for melody and verse.

Licensed in Canada on Joel Gibb’s (the Hidden Cameras) Evil Evil imprint and released elsewhere by Rough Trade, Four Songs by Arthur Russell is what its title suggests and then some: Vera November (Verity Susman of Electrelane) uses only a piano and her voice to give World of Echo’s "Our Last Night Together” a restful swing; "Our Last Night Together” a restful swing; Lekman’s refined take on Another Thought’s "A Little Lost” with just his voice and kalimba flutters like butterflies in a light breeze; Bergsman’s Taken By Trees utilises her forlorn coo and acoustic along with a sobbing clarinet to soothe Calling Out of Context’s "Make 1,2,” and Gibb replaces his Cameras with Lekman’s piano and El Perro Del Mar’s vocal tenderness for another Calling Out of Context cut, the warmly inviting "That’s Us/Wild Combination.”

This is a great starting point for anyone unfamiliar with the dear departed songwriter, and will be included in the forthcoming Matt Wolf documentary on Arthur, expected in 2008 (see teaser trailer below). Hopefully these two projects combined will lead others to his own varied works, because there is plenty there to be absorbed and cherished.

Click here to buy the digital EP or here to buy the CD EP.

Jens Lekman "A Little Lost”

Documentary teaser trailer