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Arthur Russell's shadow

It is very complicated to talk about Arthur Russell without resorting to praise. There is no room for containment when talking about the musician who could play the cello in songs as intimate as they are experimental, revolutionize the dance floor with experiments which still today sound innovative, or even, dare to sing, guitar in his hand, memorable songs with a folk aftertaste.

Many are the edges of the intense legacy of Arthur Russell, who passed away in 1992 due to AIDS. Many of those facets appear gathered in an immense and varied compilation of the label Yep Roc in collaboration with Red Hot, an organization commissioned to raise awareness of AIDS through popular culture. Robyn, Scissor Sisters, Sam Amidon's folk or Sufjan Stevens' unique touch —the list is immense and surprising— are some of the artists who reinterpret legendary songs from Russell's work. It is a thorough selection which serves as a review of the different facets of a musician.

There is no better way to start than This Is How We Walk On The Moon, perhaps Russell's most famous song which José González interprets for the compilation. An astonishing version which is channeled through the same experimental field of the original. The result is a really imaginative song that does justice to Russell's classic and keeps in mind the search for perfection and constant surprise.

In the trajectory of Russell there are three distinguishable periods. First of all we find a more experimental phase guided by an instrument which has little prominence except when it is in the hands of Russell: the  cello. He uses it to write deep songs, noisy sometimes, and also dark, above of which he sings, and which create an incomparable atmosphere. His albums World of Echo and Another Thought represent this period. It is perhaps, Russell's most unique touch, which you can sense in songs like the legendary Soon-to-Be Innocent Fun / Let's See, a song which only appears as a kind of interlude, signed by Lonney Holley, also responsible for other small pieces that link the songs throughout the album.

Also in this period we can find curious covers like Keeping Up, in charge of Richard Reed Parry, Being It by Cults, Lucky Cloud by Sam Amidon or Losing My Taste For The Night Life written by Devendra Banhart, who manages to keep the emotion of the original version intact. The most surprising of them all is A Little Lost by Sufjan Stevens, whose results could belong to Rusell's second phase, much more electronic.

And the thing is that, from the most experimental pop, the artist entered fully into most cutting-edge disco music of the moment. This context is to which hits like Go Bang belong, whose essence is maintained by Hot Chip, or Tell You (Today), which Robyn adapts in a more commercial way. These are missile songs, hard to get out of your mind. Arthur Russell used diverse pseudonyms and projects to give free rein to these productions which are focused directly on the floor, like Dinosaur L or Loose Joints.

During this more electronic phase he also gave shape to some very experimental songs which could belong to the present. It is necessary to remark That’s Us/Wild Combination as one of Russell's most important songs. A treasure of pop which expands and walks in multiple directions. A master song which Scissor Sisters reinterpret based on their more disco side and omitting the rest of facets that the original song has. Beyond the classic Russell songs which are usually pointed out and which we have mentioned previously along this article, it could be the most identifying song of Russell's spirit, for it mixes and rummages different styles to generate a unique and inimitable discourse. The posthumous compilation Calling Out of Context is based on this sort of compositions from his discography as well as the very notable Arm Around You.

Lastly, years after the death of Russell, the compilation Love Is Overtaking Me was released. An astonishing album, since it consisted of short folk songs by Russell with his guitar but full of that gloomy and romantic spirit which his voice transmitted.

The final stages of the compilation place a special emphasis on these songs and surprises us with versions like I Couldn’t Say it to Your Face, by Glen Hansard or Nobody Wants a Lonely Heart, by Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, a delicious discovery.

Of course, the compilation leaves out many of the essentials by Russell, but it serves as the perfect letter of introduction to go deep into his sonic universe. The proposal also works in reverse, thanks to the deserving reinterpretations that arouse interest towards the participant bands in the album.