Lassoing 20 previously unreleased Arthur Russell songs, ‘Iowa Dream’ holds alongside ‘Calling Out of Context’ as the genius composer’s most significant volley since he passed in 1992. It reveals the full extent of his country folk and pop roots alongside golden, early pre-echoes and parallels to his much loved disco-not-disco sound world…
A country boy who made his name among the NYC avant-garde cognoscenti and disco glitterati, Arthur Russell’s heart never really left the endlessly rolling plains of the American Mid-West, as you’ll hear in the beautiful ‘Iowa Dream’ collection. A long time coming, it’s a remarkable set pulled from Russell’s extensive archive between the early 1970s and 1985, spanning his stint in San Fran studying Buddhism and North Indian classical music, and working with Allen Ginsberg, to his arrival in NYC, and to just prior the release of his seminal ‘World Of Echo’ LP. This whole period, and Russell’s life for that matter, is covered in-depth on the Wild Combination DVD, and surely known to even passing fans of his music, but as any keener ones know, what was released was only the tip of an iceberg that ‘Iowa Dreams’ begins to gauge.
Headed by the deliberately placed ‘Wonder Boy’ from a 1974 demo session, the set rolls through no fewer than 19 previously unreleased songs that are often shocking for their lack of the judicious FX and studio magick that would come to be crucial in his work. Rather, these songs speak to straighter, (albeit fundamentally queer) expressions of Russell’s soul, and perhaps imagine an ideal playlist for a Combine Harvester-driving farmer as much as a trucker or an artsy kid stuck in a small town and clinging to his instruments. But, for every charming folk strummer such as ‘I Never Get Lonesome’, or the strolling ‘Words Of Love’ (which hardly even sounds like him), there’s a glimpse of his otherworldly genius radiating form the likes of his spine-playing melody and harmonised vocals in ‘Everybody Everybody’, or perhaps more pertinently the playful barnyard rock ’n roll antics of ‘Iowa Dream’, which features references to his father, the Mayor of the town, over driving organs and drums and even crowing cocks that demonstrate a very early openness to splaying with conventions. And that dilated ear would only grow across the years while becoming more focussed on his own sound, leading up to some absolute beauties at the other end of the LP’s timeline with the likes of 1985’s spirit-melting ‘Everybody Everybody’, which could have been a radio hit in an ideal world, or gems such as the Bob Blank-engineered ‘Follow You’, and the gorgeous ‘List Of Boys’ both also from 1985, that fill a hitherto unknown gap between his disco work and the stripped down chamber-pop-plex of ‘World of Echo’.
We hardly need to stress it but this album is a crucial piece of a very complex puzzle. It may even be the set to play to those friends who’ve tentatively flirted with his music but not properly connected yet. After all it’s pure folk and pop at core, but just with that rare something Arthur had that gives us life every time.