Another Thought was the first collection of Arthur Russell’s music to be released after his death in 1992. Released in 1993 on Point Music it marked the beginning of nearly 30 years of work to let the world hear the enormous archive of unreleased recordings Arthur left behind. Be With revisits this first compilation for a new gatefold double vinyl version and a triple-fold digipak CD reissue.
We’ll assume that by now you’re all at least a little familiar with the story of Arthur Russell, the farm boy from Iowa who moved to 1970s New York. Arthur Russell the genuine musical genius who died just 40 years old, leaving behind a wealth of music that dwarfed the few 12" s and LPs that were released during his short life.
Although Arthur had been working on an album for Rough Trade during his last years, with the label no longer operating it was Point Music (Philip Glass and Michael Riesman’s label set up together with Philips) who stepped in to help Arthur’s partner Tom Lee start working out exactly what Arthur had left behind.
Tom suggested his and Arthur’s friend Mikel Rouse was the right person to make the first catalogue. Working in Tom and Arthur’s apartment he had only two weeks to go through what turned out to be around 800 tapes.
As Tom explained “at the end of each day he would generally wait for me to come home and I would, to the best of my knowledge, name and identify pieces in question from that day’s work. As he worked Mikel compiled about a dozen cassettes that he thought would present the most finished sounding songs for Don/Point to use. As Don listened he would then suggest and ask me and thus we collaborated on the choices.”
Don is Don Christensen, Another Thought’s producer. With a final selection of songs from recordings made between 1982 and 1990, including sessions with some of Arthur’s regular collaborators Peter Zummo, Steven Hall, Mustafa Ahmed, Elodie Lauten, Julius Eastman, Jennifer Warnes and Joyce Bowden, it was then Don’s job to turn these into a finished album.
Another Thought is a little different from the compilations of Arthur’s music that came out since. In our conversations with Steve Knutson (who founded Audika Records and who manages Arthur’s estate together with Tom), he explained that “more than any project released by Arthur during his lifetime or posthumously by Audika, ‘Another Thought’ is the most worked over. The material was significantly edited and rearranged from the original source tapes”.
If the aim was to release a comprehensive exploration of every facet of Arthur’s music, from the most avant-garde of his avant-garde compositions through to the most disco-not-disco of his disco-not-disco tunes then the project was a spectacular failure. But as a coherent album of non-obvious pop music Another Thought is wonderful.
Starting with the sparse voice-and-cello of the title track, A Little Lost adds some guitar along with the sneaking suspicion that we’re listening to something nowhere near as simple as it first sounds. By the time we get to This Is How We Walk On The Moon – it could be the moment you notice the congas, or the percussion that’s been building behind them, or maybe it’s that blast of trumpet and trombone – we realise we’ve gone from splashing around to being completely submerged in the musical world of Arthur Russell.
From here the album heads off on its journey around the sounds of the left-field contemporary classical music of the time, re-directed towards pop ears, with minor detours through the swirling woozy disco of the half-remembered night before on In The Light Of The Miracle and My Tiger, My Timing. Whether it’s just Arthur, his cello and some bleeps on Just A Blip, or whether he has some vocal help as he does on the bounding Keeping Up, this is difficult music made so, so easy. And through it all is Arthur’s voice and cello. Sometimes drowned in distortion and sometimes clear as a bell, but always there somewhere.
A Sudden Chill finally returns us to the calmer waters we started in and this last track closes the album with a melancholy that’s not surprising given how soon after Arthur’s death the album was put together.
Whilst Another Thought holds together with the consistency of a proper album, there’s still no getting away from the fact that this was put together from audio recorded in different ways, in different places, with different people at different times. Those with keen ears will hear traces of tape hiss, the occasional blown-out note and some digital fuzz, all fingerprints of those original recordings as well as of the 1990s digital equipment that was used to piece Another Thought together.
Add to this Arthur’s obvious pleasure in making music from the sort of sounds that can make microphones, speakers and ears uncomfortable, it’s no surprise that Another Thought isn’t glossy and pristine. Don Christensen’s productions have been careful to not scrub up those original recordings so much that they lose their original vibe, understandable given that Arthur wasn’t around as a guide. We’ve applied a similarly light touch with the mastering for these Be With versions, just working to make sure they sound like they should on both the vinyl and the CD.
Despite the Discogs rumours, Another Thought was never originally released as an LP. So when it came to the sleeve for this Be With vinyl version we took the original CD artwork as a starting point to come up with something that looks like it could have been in the record racks back in 1993.
We have to thank Janette Beckman for helping us reproduce her iconic photograph of Arthur in his newspaper boat hat. One of many photographs she took of Arthur, Janette shot this in her New York studio back in 1986 for a short article in the January ’87 issue of The Face Magazine. Those with eagle-eyes will notice we’ve used an ever-so-slightly different shot from the one that appeared in The Face and then again on the original cover of Another Thought. The original has long since been lost so we’ve worked with what is left in Janette’s archives. And we also have to thank Tom Lee for giving us permission to reproduce his liner notes from the original CD booklet, together with Arthur’s lyrics.
Both versions of Be With’s 2021 re-issue of Another Thought have been mastered by Simon Francis and the vinyl cut by Pete Norman. The original artwork has been restored and tweaked at Be With HQ for the gatefold sleeve and the triple-fold digipak, with the essential help of Janette Beckman. Each version comes with an insert reproducing the liner notes and lyrics from the original CD release.
Together with Calling Out Of Context, Soul Jazz’s World of Arthur Russell, and much of the ongoing work of Audika, Another Thought is absolutely essential for even the most casual Arthur Russell collection. In fact, we’d argue it’s essential for any fan of non-obvious pop music. This is the only place where you can hear some of Arthur’s most recognisable tunes and it’s an album that absolutely deserves to be kept in press.