Thursday, March 26, 2009

Arthur Russell – The Sleeping Bag Sessions

Since 2004, when Soul Jazz released the World of Arthur Russell compilation and Audika began reissuing albums including World of Echo and Another Thought and excavating the music that makes up Springfield and last years beautiful Love is Overtaking Me Arthur Russell’s rep has constantly grown. But it has perhaps grown-up lopsided, with Arthur’s incredible dancefloor tracks being overlooked in favour of the music that fits the image of a shy troubadour, bowing his cello and singing softly to the floor in endless recording sessions.

Partially this is because that image is one that sells and is easy to write about, but it’s as much because Arthur’s disco tracks were issued on 12”s spread across a variety of labels, some of which have been notoriously flaky about licensing their music out. Until recently, one of these was Sleeping Bag, a label actually co-started by Arthur. Taken together with the 2007 reissue of Dinosaur L’s 24→24 Music the release of the The Sleeping Bag Sessions means that all Russell’s music for the label is now easily available digitally and on CD. It’s a pity the packaging is so shoddy, with weak artwork (even if it is based on the Arthur Russell mixed 12” by Bonzo Goes To Washington) and, unforgivably, sleevenotes of only a couple of paragraphs chopped out of context from a Faith magazine article which mainly concern 24→24 Music. I don’t really need to say more than point out the font used is a variation on comic sans.

Not that all the tracks are straight fire. The Bonzo Goes To Washington funk-by-the-yard collaboration between George Clinton and Talking Heads Jerry Harrison has aged about as well as any other early eighties track that makes a feature of playing sampled voices up and down a keyboard. Think of those 'singing' dogs.  As politically motivated cut-up records go it’s more Paul Hardcastle than Steinski. The vocal chop-ups on the Russell mix of electro-rappers (deep breath) Sounds of JHS 126 Brooklyn are more compelling.

That hardly matters though. Even if you consider all the music that isn’t written by Arthur as bonus tracks, or don’t consider them at all, then this compilation is still crucial for the music he did write. The decentred, lurching funk of the Felix tracks, the up-close and personal mantra of “School Bell/Tree House” and the rhythmic wooze of the Walter Gibbons mix of “Go Bang!” are all as beautiful as any music ever recorded.

Sounds of JHS 126 Brooklyn - Chill Pill (Underwater Mix) [ysi]

Since it probably won’t appear anywhere legit anytime soon, here’s the bewildering 7” mix of Loose Joints “Pop Your Funk” which came out on West End in 1980. It sounds closer to Black Dice or Boredoms than to Lipps Inc.

No comments: