Cello-wielding one-man disco Arthur Russell has received an amazing amount of indie-realm (and otherwise) attention these past years, long after his AIDS-related death in 1992, due largely to the excellent reissues/issues by super NY label Audika. The visionary Downtown composer sang in a lovely, ghostly tone that at a distance may feel topically unlike the bantering croon of Jens Lekman, but when you put the two side-by-side, the similarity of approach and essence is somewhat startling. In that way it both makes sense and surprises that Lekman covers Russell’s “A Little Lost,” while spearheading the Four Songs By Arthur Russell covers project (where Vera November, Taken By Trees, and Joel Gibb also pay homage). Here’s the earlier Take-Away version of “A Little Lost” recorded by La Blogotheque.
And the gorgeous version Jens recorded at home after the jump.
And the original … Contrast/compare by grabbing MP3 here.
Lekman explains the affinity and the Four Songs project:
I first met Arthur Russell when I was 19. I had just graduated and all my friends had gone to London or Paris. I was left alone with exactly 126 euros and I knew I had to go somewhere. The only thing I could find for that money was a bus trip to the Mosel Valley in Germany. Unfortunately it turned out to be a wine-testing trip for old people. I was highly disappointed at first, I had expected some kind of adventure, but after a while I just started walking around in the hills with my walkman. A friend had made a tape with songs from Arthur Russell’s “Another Thought” and so that week the most beautiful voice I’d ever heard accompanied the most beautiful landscapes I’d ever seen. I burned my neck really bad.
Four years later I was playing shows here and there and I often played Arthur’s “A Little Lost” on my kalimba. I had suggested to my friend Victoria Bergsman that maybe we should make a cover single or EP of Arthur’s songs. She put me in touch with Verity Susman from Electrelane and I brought in Joel Gibb from the Hidden Cameras. At this point we felt there was a certain symmetry between us, we could’ve brought in a few more and made a tribute album but tribute albums are boring in my opinion and tend to lose focus halfway through…
For me, the choice of song was never a question as I’d been playing “A Little Lost” on and off for three years. I managed to make my kalimba sound like drops of water and just recorded it in a few hours at home.
We’re glad that you did, oh silent one. (Interesting, too, how it makes us think of Chet Baker … next cover stop, Jens?)
Four Songs By Arthur Russell is out (digitally only) 10/23 on Rough Trade.