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‘Master Mix: Red Hot + Arthur Russell’ album review

A dazzling cast pay tribute to a forgotten disco and lo-fi legend

By Tristan Parker |
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The legacy of experimental cellist Arthur Russell is a curious one. This wildly innovative songwriter released music commercially for less than 20 years, yet pioneered the lo-fi disco sound beloved of countless modern bands (James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem, Foals, Caribou, Friendly Fires, Hercules and Love Affair), worked with diverse names (Talking Heads, leftfield classical composer Philip Glass, disco god Larry Levan, beat poet Allen Ginsberg) and wrote some beautiful songs, before his untimely death from Aids in 1992.

Despite his impressive output, Russell never became the cult figure he was perfectly placed to be, though he did have a significant impact on a lot of musicians, including the first-rate cast on this tribute album.

Organised by non-profit organisation Red Hot, which funds Aids relief and awareness through cultural projects (profits from the album will go towards its work), ‘Master Mix…’ features covers of 26 Russell songs by acts including Hot Chip, Robyn, Jose Gonzalez and Sufjan Stevens.

Reinterpreting Russell’s unique sound, which veered from spacey disco to avant pop to tender ballads, is no easy task. One highlight comes from Blood Orange (aka Dev Hynes), who captures Russell’s subtle but sublime blending of electronic experimentation and instrumental funk. Other contributors apply a narrower focus: Devendra Banhart keeps it gentle and floaty in ‘Losing My Taste for the Nightlife’ and Jose Gonzalez does his stripped-back acoustic thing on spaced-out epic ‘This Is How We Walk on the Moon’. Meanwhile, Hot Chip’s bold, brilliant take on twisted funk behemoth ‘Go Bang’ stirs together Afrobeat, jazzy guitars and ambient pop, making for a compelling listen.

Russell’s contributions to disco are, of course, represented here. Robyn and Scissor Sisters both go camp and colourful in their renditions (the latter’s leans towards gaudy), and Vega Intl (Alan Palomo from synth pop troupe Neon Indian) offers a pulsing, heady rework of ‘Arms Around You’.

During his sadly short creative career, Russell excelled at crafting music that was both fun and achingly beautiful. ‘Master Mix’ is a worthy and thoroughly enjoyable introduction to his diverse body of work. Just don’t forget to listen to the music of great man himself as well.
What do you think of ‘Master Mix: Red Hot + Arthur Russell’? Let us know in the comments box below or tweet us at @TimeOutMusic.

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