Arthur Russell - Love is Overtaking Me

by Al Brown Rating: Release Date:

I first heard the opener 'Close My Eyes' as it played over the closing credits of the film Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell and listened to little else in the following week. The film was great: a touching, fascinating biopic of an oft-overlooked genius. The song is a minimal acoustic guitar ballad in which Russell sings about his expectation of meeting someone in "in the field, tonight", although who he is meeting, and for what reason, is never divulged. The simplicity and the raw wonder with which our narrator perceives his surroundings suggest he is young; and the anticipation of the unknowable things that will happen is palpable: "I close my eyes and listen /to hear the corn come out /Can't you hear the stars they glisten /as we go in and out." The last line, on paper, suggests sex, but song is sung in such an innocent way that it almost seems more likely he is talking about running "In and out" of the towering cornfields with a school friend. The effect, either way, is magical: for me, the most beautiful evocation of adolescent wonder on record (perhaps tied with 'Roadrunner' by The Modern Lovers).

Russell moved to New York and became a respected avant-garde musician but on the first half of this record he is stuck (at least thematically) in his teenage bedroom in rural Iowa: thinking, dreaming of his future, full of naive wonder at what life will be. On the joyous 'Time Away' he makes tidying up your room seem like the most fun thing in the world: a rickety drumbeat accompanies as he exclaims: "I'll pick my pants even though / I might wear them, wear them today!" 'This Time Dad You're Wrong' is the most affectionate parental rebuttal around, a perfect, polite two-minute gem that seems to be a pre-emptive slight on those nu-metal bands who made so much cash by plugging into surly teenagers' dislike of their parents. In 'I Forget And I Can't Tell (Ballad of The Lights Pt.1)' Russell is scanning a cityscape from his window, trying to work out which of the many lights is coming from the object of his desire's room, before giving up and exclaiming: "Meet me tonight! / Meet me in the light, tonight!"

There's sense of hope and wonder in the best of these songs that is thrillingly contagious: they are all demos, recorded by Russell and some of his friends and associates over the course of two decades but never released until now, so many of them feel sparse or slightly ramshackle. But they are utterly human and, in parts, about as great as music gets.

Best Tracks: 'Close My Eyes', 'Nobody Wants a Lonely Heart', 'I Forget and I Can't Tell (Ballad of The Lights Pt.1)', 'Love is Overtaking Me'

Alistair Brown

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