Arthur Russell was a mutant of disco, a starry-eyed singer-songwriter and a relentless explorer, first heard in downtown New York lofts and limited-press vinyl from the mid-1970s to the early '90s. He died in 1992 from complications of HIV-AIDS, at the age of 40, but his music seemed to find sporadic pockets of deep listeners. It wasn't until 2004 when a pair of compilations — The World of Arthur Russell (Soul Jazz) and Calling Out of Context (Audika) — that his rediscovery began, and perhaps when the world was truly ready for Russell's vision.
Since then, Russell's partner Tom Lee and Steve Knutson of Audika Records have blessed new generations of fans with previously unheard music. Now, yet again, they offer another archival release that peels back another layer of Arthur Russell's idiosyncratic sense of sound.
Iowa Dream is partly culled from demos recorded for major labels: "first in 1974, with Paul Nelson of Mercury Records, and then in 1975, with the legendary John Hammond of Columbia Records," the press release states. Unfortunately, neither of these sessions resulted in a deal, but it's just like Russell to bring in a serious list of avant-garde collaborators for his version of pop record: Ernie Brooks, Rhys Chatham, Henry Flynt, Jon Gibson, Peter Gordon, Steven Hall, Jackson Mac Low, Larry Saltzman and David Van Tieghem. (Current musician Peter Broderick worked with the label to complete, restore and do additional mixes for the songs.)
"You Did It Yourself" was first teased in Wild Combination, which, if you haven't seen the 2008 documentary by Matt Wolf, by all means, it's one of the most touching portraits of a musician I have ever experienced. But here we finally get a full version of the demo, which features prairie-boy country stylings over a fretless bass groove, connecting the not-so-disparate worlds of two beloved archival releases — 2008's Love Is Overtaking Me and the previously mentioned Calling Out of Context -- with yet another revelatory layer to discover.
Iowa Dream comes out Nov. 15 via Audika Records.