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Album of the Day — September 18
Arthur Russell — Iowa Dream
Arthur Russell — Iowa Dream
Some artists are of their time, some ahead of it, and some behind it. And other artists transcend time.
Arthur Russell transcends time.
The shadow he casts over pop music is long.
Iowa born Russell moved to New York City in the mid-’70s (ish) and fit right into the burgeoning avant-garde music scene.
In addition to working with composers like Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, and poet Allen Ginsberg, he also worked with musicians like David Byrne of Talking Heads.
Under the pseudonym Dinosaur L and Indian Ocean, he made several underground dance hits. And while he did generate a considerable amount of material, Arthur Russell was only able to complete two solo albums — 1983’s Tower of Meaning, and World of Echo in 1986 — during his lifetime.
Russell gained enough notoriety that he was able to get the ear of Columbia Record’s legendary kingmaker John Hammond. During his tenure at Columbia, Hammond signed the following artists to the label:
Stevie Ray Vaughn
This record was culled from sessions led by John Hammond, who believed that Arthur Russell could be the next Bob Dylan. It was Hammond and Mercury Record’s Paul Nelson who led these sessions, and it was Hammond and Nelson who became almost immediately irritated with Russell.
At one session, when Russell arrived with a large number of musicians in tow, causing Hammond to snarkily introduce the take by saying: “And the next song will be performed by Arthur Russell and his symphony orchestra.”
Unfortunately, Arthur Russell was not the easiest artist to get along with. He was notoriously a perfectionist — he once spent all day tuning a kick drum while his bandmates waited on the satisfaction of his fastidiousness. Such the perfectionist that a large chunk of his work went unfinished.
These sessions for Iowa Dream fall into the perfectionist and “unfinished” camp.
Russell is not an easy listen. But if you listen close enough, his minimalist compositions contain the origins of synth-pop, while incorporating some mantric style folk music. At times you can hear hints of Laurel Canyon, and at others you can hear the downtown NYC noise scene.
Despite his varied musical daliances, Russell was a pop music enthusiast. And he was a Buddhist. He had hoped to one day create a genre he called “Buddhist bubblegum.”
The music on Iowa Dream was mostly curated by archivist Steve Knutson and Russell’s longtime partner, Tom Lee. They gave the Frankesteining together of these pieces to producer and musician Peter Broderick, whose own work parallels Russells.
He referred to compiling the album as “listening to the band rehearse trying to get the song down.” Frustrated at times, Broderick took Russell’s music, mixed it properly, restored anything deteriorated, and created an album of 19 different Arthur Russell songs.
More significantly, 19 complete Arthur Russell songs.
Broderick mixed these songs, but the sound of Iowa Dream is distinctly Arthur Russell. And it’s this sound of Iowa Dream that can be heard on albums by artists as varied as Lou Reed (New Sensations and Mistrial come to mind) and almost anything by Erasure and New Order.