Arthur Russell's `Love Is Overtaking Me' compiles previously unreleased material from the critically regarded but somehow commercially overlooked artist's archive. Ranging from Dylanesque folk, country and angular art pop from the 1970s through to the final home recordings before his death in 1991, the album provides a fascinating portrait of a restless innovator and songwriter whose journey reflects two generations of musical transformation. I don't want to make it sound as if Russell was just a musical magpie since every style he appropriated he made his own, and the tracks on `Love Is Overtaking Me' are linked by a sonic playfulness, a lightness of touch and an melodic insouciance. They are are also linked in that they depict a particular side of Russell's work, the - for lack of a better expression - singer-songwriter side (i.e., intimate, lyrical and often romantic) as opposed to his more avant-garde explorations, electronic experiments and disco (some of which released under various pseudonyms). It is also worth noting that this should not be viewed by the novice (for I am new to Russell too) as simply an outtakes and rarities collection for the hardcore fans and completists, as Russell had vast archives of unreleased material and was known for being a pained perfectionist who could not finish anything. This is a fact belied by the music, which often has a breezy, almost casual brilliance.
Over 21 tracks there is a little, but not a lot, variation in quality; but given the brevity of songs `Love Is Overtaking Me' is not the mammoth collection it initially seems. Many tracks focus on Russell's lyrical concerns: bittersweet small town narratives, everyman streams of consciousness. The little vignettes like `Maybe She' are deceptively simple at first but have a delicate sadness that gradually insinuates itself. It is fashionably lo-fi, but not devoid of the electronic and art-pop touches for which Russell is perhaps more widely known. The cello - the instrument that is most commonly associated - is also present, but mainly a tool used for subtler shading on these tracks, often little more than a sombre murmur. Nick Drake is the figure that immediately comes to mind listening to the beginning of `Love Is Overtaking Me' - or at least an Americana tinged version of the troubled Cambridge folk singer - but had Drake lived into the 1980s it is difficult to imagine that he would have made the post-punk tinged pop of `Habit of You'. The chamber woodwinds at the beginning of `Goodbye Old Paint', for example, recall a melancholy English folk but the singing is pitched closer to Dylan. By contrast, `Time Away' could be the Velvet Underground, `Janine' or `The Letter' could be a wigged-out early Police, and `What It's Like' recalls Lambchop's Memphis soul. Russell is such an eclectic figure, with such a formidable back catalogue, that some may not know where to start. Take it from me, you could do a lot worse than starting here. Highly recommended. First published at The Line of Best Fit.
Pretty good selection of early stuff by Mr Russell. If you're more a fan of the house stuff or the world of echo cello based music then you might be a bit disappointed as there is by and large a more conventional feel to the songs. However, that is no bad thing as some of them are total classics, "I couldn't say it to your face", and "Close my eyes" are truely great songs in a 70's counrty style, like a cooler Glen Cambell, (not that it would be hard to be cooler than Glen Cambell). "Time away" sounds like a very early song, in which Arthur tells us about how he is going to tidy his room, it's great. The later half of the album has a more jaunty house feel, a little like Talking Heads but still stamped with the individual flavour that could only be Arthur Russell. The high point for me though is "Eli", it's, I presume, an early version of his solo cello and voice songs about a poor old dog that nobody likes. It's hauntingly beautiful and insanely catchy at the same time. I found myself singing it for days, or wailing it, or whatever. Anyway if your a fan already you should invest as it's a really intresting body of work from an artist you probably thought you knew, but didn't, (is there anything Russell couldn't do?). If you don't know him that well, buy it anyway, the man's a very singular talent, I've compared him to other artists in this review but really no-one sounds quite like Arthur Russell.
The other reviews here are spot on. I would merely be echoing their sentiments (mainly acoustic, all quite similar), so I will keep this relatively short.
There is a charm to Arthurs work that is quite inherent, an innocence in his work that is utterley disarming and which at once can entrance you quite literally. I find myself completely transported listening to his little narratives on this release, 'This Time Dad Your Wrong' and 'I Couldn't Say It To Your Face' are exquisite, rough gems.
An unheralded genius.... at anything he tried and Jesus did he try a lot.
I bought this CD after hearing the recent programme about Arthur Russell on Radio 4. What a beautiful CD. Mainly acoustic, and spanning the seventies and eighties. The first few tracks are country and western in style, but it moves on through other genres. All the songs are quite gentle in style, but always interesting and often surprising. The lyrics are quirky and poetic, and often amusing. There's an experimental feel to the music; it sounds fresh and innovative, even now, decades after it was recorded. The sound quality is good, and it warrants listening to on a good system where all the textures in the music can be appreciated. It sounds great in the car. If you thought you liked his voice on the Radio 4 programme, buy this CD!