Avant-garde New York City musician and composer Arthur Russell, known to many as the mastermind behind Dinosaur L’s simmering underground disco gem “Go Bang,” died in 1992. However, Iowa Dream—which was compiled by Russell’s partner, Tom Lee, and Audika Records’ Steve Knutson—illustrates that his posthumous legacy is in very good hands. The album encompasses unfinished archival work (including some songs featuring contributions from New York musicians such as Ernie Brooks, Rhys Chatham, Henry Flynt, and Jon Gibson) that was fleshed out and completed with great care by musician Peter Broderick.
Although Iowa Dream covers a lot of sonic ground—tender folk, minimalist chamber-pop, stark piano ballads, offbeat no wave—of particular note is a stunning full version of the rarity “You Did It Yourself,” which here is driven by burbling bass and feathery guitar jangle. Other songs are of a piece with Russell’s forward-thinking dance music (“I Kissed The Girl From Outer Space,” a gentle disco-pop song with corrugated guitars and perforated saxophone blips), and his meticulous orchestral compositions (“Just Regular People”). However, Iowa Dream‘s songs frequently make Russell’s voice a focal point, which illuminates the emotional depth to his songwriting. Throughout the spare “Wonder Boy,” he’s inquisitive and open-hearted; the horn-peppered “Come To Life” is introspective and wistful; and the easygoing, country-tinged heartbreaker “I Never Get Lonesome” finds him wrestling with the disorienting sensation of isolation. Iowa Dream puts forth a compelling argument that Russell is an even bigger influence on modern music—and more strains of modern music—than previously thought.