I’ve long loved Peter Broderick’s various musical projects. From pastoral ambient to bedroom pop, Broderick has become the ultimate polymath indie journeyman. For a sample of what I mean, take a listen to the album “Home,” which was my first introduction to his music. But no album will be comprehensive for Broderick, if only due to his chameleon-like ability to experiment and combine different genres and styles all while juggling a handful of projects. Not only does he seem to show up everywhere, equipped with a new exciting musical perspective, he also seems to know almost everyone in the music industry and be able to convince them to join in on his various sound adventures.
That’s why it makes a whole lot of sense that Broderick would end up doing a full album of Arthur Russell covers. Both artist have been, in their time, auteurs who traveled easily between styles and scenes. Both have also been musicians outside of the mainstream who have still managed to wield an impressive amount of influence. Their immense talent shows through their music, and Broderick flexes that genre-defying sensibility all across “Peter Broderick and Friends Play Arthur Russell.”
This isn’t the first Arthur Russell tribute album. There have been a handful in the last few decades. One notable one is the “Master Mix: Red Hot + Arthur Russell” recording, which brought together some of the biggest names in indie music back in 2014 for a fairly comprehensive retrospective of Russell’s music. Over 26 tracks we got to hear from artists like Sufjan Stevens, Sam Amidon, and Devendra Banhart, all who have made an indelible mark on the current indie scene. The album serves as a reminder of the huge influence that Russell’s music has had on the world. Though in his own day Russell was essentially unknown, it’s fascinating to see that a host of genre-bending artists have been inspired by his pioneering brand of music.
Peter Broderick putting together a full album of Russell covers, then, is either a foolish endeavor or indicative of the incredible musical depth and admiration that Broderick possesses. I’m going to go with the latter, especially since the “friends” on this album includes Russell’s niece and nephew Rachel Henry and Beau Lisy. You can tell the work they’ve put into not only paying homage to Russell’s songs, but also to doing an admirable impression of his idiosyncratic style.
The “Peter Broderick and Friends Play Arthur Russell” album originally began as a set idea for a Denmark festival hosted by former Efterklang bandmate Rasmus Stolberg. After the performance went spectacularly well, Broderick got offers from a host of other festivals to do the same set. This led to attention from Tom Lee, Arthur’s long-time partner, who invited Broderick to take a look a look at Russell’s archival work and even help to restore some of the old tapes. Broderick went on to spend hours digging into Russell’s work, some of which had never before seen an official release.
What we get on this album is the fruit of Broderick’s extensive labors with Russell’s old material. This includes some of the artist’s most enduring songs, plus two tracks that were never released in their original versions. His cover of one of Russell’s most popular tracks “That’s Us/ Wild Combination” is faithful to the synth groove of the original version. Plus, Broderick does a pretty faithful rendition of both Russell’s singing style and his particular reverb effect, almost like an actor playing Russell on the stage. It’s Broderick as Russell or Broderick channeling Russell, or maybe just shows how much an influence Russell has had over Broderick’s music.
I particularly love the island groove that Broderick finds on “A Little Lost.” Part reggae, part romantic confessional, it builds off of Russell’s original cello track and has more than a little fun with the bouncy melody.:
“And I’m so busy, so busy thinking about kissing you, now I want to do that, without entertaining another thought!”
The song is a prime example of Broderick’s vibrant enthusiasm for Russell and his songs. That alone makes for an enjoyable experience across the album. Combine that with Broderick’s impressive instrumentation and song arrangement, and you get one of the finest (and one of the most intimate) Russell cover albums to date.
Russell was such an interesting musical figure that any number of tribute albums could sound completely different. We don’t really get into Russell’s disco side, or explore his more experimental sounds. This album is more about Russell’s songwriting, his lyrical sensibility, and his outsider pop perspective. Broderick, who is in a very similar place in today’s musical landscape, provides just the right vehicle to channel the spirit of Russell’s music.
The album end as beautifully as it began. The closer “You Are My Love” feels like it could have appeared in any number of indie romance films, and Broderick gives it a sentimental treatment that allows the song to flourish and expand through Russell’s lyrics. That particular brand of melancholic happiness, layered in a gorgeous melody and accompanied by a female voice, shines through Broderick’s delivery:
“You and me, in a different world. Touch me and that’s all I need today.”