Luther Russell, partner to Jody Stephens (Big Star) – Selective Memories CD, out Feb 23

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Selective Memories: An Anthology offers 41 reasons Luther Russell is so highly regarded by his peers and so treasured by fans who have fallen in love with his eclectically personal songs, which careen rambunctiously among power pop, rootsy Americana, folk-rock, punk, funk and country.

This 2-CD compilation, due Feb 23rd, 2018 via Hanky Panky Records (and as a double cassette on Burger Records), also provides newcomers a wonderful introduction to an artist whose work critics have compared favorably to Wilco, the Replacements, Ryan Adams, Elliott Smith, and Big Star.

Big Star’s drummer Jody Stephens, who plays in the duo Those Pretty Wrongs with Russell, describesSelective Memories as “an epic musical landscape that takes you from painted deserts to graffiti’d urban walls. All united by melody and colorful production.”

Photo credit: Savannah Spirit

Russell fans will rejoice to discover that this retrospective, spanning 30 years of music-making, heavily favors previously unreleased material — 25 of the 41 tracks, to be precise, are being issued for the first time. There are two early demos (“Got Me on My Knees” and “Interstate 68 Blues”) by the Bootheels, Russell’s teenage band with Jakob Dylan, and one recording (“Smoke Signals”) from Federale, his short-lived group with ex-Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford. Additionally, the collection holds songs — both released and unreleased — from Russell’s time fronting the 1990s band the Freewheelers (which put out albums for David Geffen’s DGC Records and Rick Rubin’s American Recordings) and from his solo outings. The anthology also comes with a booklet featuring the artist’s own track-by-track annotations as well as liner notes by veteran music writer Bud Scoppa and Larry Crane, editor of Tape Op Magazine.

Jakob Dylan states that Selective Memories reveals his old bandmate as being “as dedicated, motivated, and inspiring as he was when we started a band together at 17 years old.” This set presents a colorful, kaleidoscopic exploration of the many sides to Russell’s music that he is justifiably excited to share. “Though I seem to wear a lot of hats, writing songs and burning them to tape fits my head the best. And as for the urchins that never got to call one of my records a home, I took a flashlight down to the basement so you don’t have to. I’ve uncovered a track for every stripe, I think.”

While you may not know it, chances are that you probably have heard Russell’s work without realizing it. His songs have appeared on all three major TV networks along with HBO and Showtime. He also co-wrote two tunes on Weezer’s 2016 Grammy-nominated self-titled album, and was one of the performers in the recent concert film Thank You, Friends: Big Star’s Third Live … And More. A sought-after producer, Russell has helmed projects for heralded acts such as Richmond Fontaine, Fabiano do Nascimento, Ned Roberts, Sarabeth Tucek, Fernando Viciconte, Calvin Love, and Fever The Ghost. His duo with Jody Stephens, Those Pretty Wrongs, last year released a debut full-length that Paste called “a great LP that reflects the traditions of past acoustic music,” while All Music praised its “sparse elegance and unabashed sincerity.” Russell currently has been working with another cult rock icon, Robyn Hitchcock, serving as guitarist in Hitchcock’s current band, the L.A. Squires. As Hitchcock himself puts it, “Luther Russell is a joy to listen to and a joy to play music with. He understands something in music that should never be explained.”

Photo credit: Savannah Spirit

Russell’s workman-like approach to music-making is understandable considering that writing music runs deep in his bloodlines. His maternal grandfather, the Songwriters Hall of Famer Bob Russell, wrote tunes like “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “Brazil,” and “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” along with collaborating with the likes of Duke Ellington and Quincy Jones. Russell’s great-uncle Bud Green was a Broadway composer who also earned Songwriters Hall of Fame honors for penning such standards as “Alabamy Bound” and “Sentimental Journey.” Russell has described the two as “slinging words like the fry-cook slings hash,” and, that in his household, “a good rhyme — and a certain sentiment to go behind it — was as impressive as getting straight  A’s or keeping your teeth clean. It was the family trade. From a young age, I was always aware of songwriting and the influence of it in our daily lives.”

His own introduction to playing music took place at age four when his parents got him a professional drum kit, and he wound up studying percussion into his early teens. When he was 14, Russell began messing around with four-track recorders. “I still think magic can be made on those things,” he admits. In fact, many four-track recordings appear on Selective Memories.

Russell’s desire to have a band also started at a young age, and he credits groups like the Replacements (specifically their Let It Be and Tim albums) as giving him the blueprint and tools to make it happen. Following his youthful collaboration with Jakob Dylan in the Bootheels, Russell’s first leap onto the major label stage came leading the Freewheelers. While the bluesy rock ’n’ soul outfit garnered strong praise for both their self-titled debut on DGC Records and their second, Waitin’ for George, on American Records, popular success proved elusive. Russell does admit, however, that some of the reasons they slipped through the cracks were due to their own making. “We were a bit self-sabotaging. We wouldn’t co-operate. We thought making a video was ‘selling out.’”

Russell’s next major project found him teaming with former Black Crowe guitar-slinger Marc Ford, veteran bassist Freddy Trujillo, and award-winning blues drummer Jimi Bott for Federale. They landed on Interscope Records, but it was an ill-fated match. After accepting Steve Albini to produce the group, the label then changed its mind. Federale next picked producer Jack Douglas, who was excited to work with them; however, Interscope wound up dropping the band altogether.

Soldiering on, Russell has carved out a career as a solo artist, songwriter, producer, sideman and multi-instrumentalist — although “career” isn’t a word that he is particularly crazy about. “I just make music ’til I can’t anymore. Or don’t feel like it,” Russell maintains. “Believe it or not, I consider myself somewhat successful. To make music that isn’t overtly commercial and have supported myself somehow … that’s how I define success. I get to make the records I want to make.”

In fact, he already has recorded his next studio album. Entitled Medium Cool, Russell describes it as a rock album in “the classic sense” — comparing it to the feeling of records like Big Star’s Radio City and the Dwight Twilley Band’s Sincerely. He reports too that the second Those Pretty Wrongs full-length is in the works.

That Russell selected “The Sound of Rock & Roll” from Medium Cool to close Selective Memories makes perfect sense. He strongly disagrees with the notion that rock no longer has a social significance. “Rock and Roll will never die,” he says, “because it’s human and more about an attitude than a sound. Kendrick Lamar is rock and roll. Ice Cube is rock and roll. Coltrane is rock and roll. To me at least — no one can kill Rock and Roll, because it’s a state of mind.” A state of mind you will experience with Selective Memories.

Disc One

Got Me On My Knees *

Interstate 68 Blues *

I Got A Woman *

I’ll Keep Away *

Thursday Girl *

The Man Hurts You *

Don’t Cry *

One Heart’s Gonna Break *

Little Miss Fortune

Too Dark In Your House *

Kill Me *

Desdemona *

Let The Music Bring A Smile

Princess Washed The Dishes *

I’m A Stranger (#1) *

Don’t Talk To Strangers

Seven

Back To Me *

Friend Song *

Disc Two

Smoke Signals *

Anymore, Anyway *

Lonely Planet Song *

Fried Bananas

Keohen’s Theme

Arthur Lee

Tell Me If My Love’s Too Late

Bronwyn

Empty Taxis *

So Sad *

Somehow Or Another

Kurt *

Just Short Of Winning *

Everybody Falls

Black Leather Coat

Your One Big Lie

The Look In Your Eye

Everything You Do

Motorbike

The Sunnyland *

Yer So Bad

The Sound Of Rock & Roll *

*previously unreleased

 

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