Arthur Russell has always been a musician's musician. His eclectic recordings in the '70s and '80s (when he was collaborating with the likes of Philip Glass, Talking Heads, and Studio 54 DJ Nicky Siano) veer from sprawling disco to amorphous experiments he performed on his cello in his apartment.
His catalog defies categorization, which is partly why, when he died from AIDS-related causes in 1992, the Iowa-born New York transplant was nearly broke and a virtual unknown. But when a bunch of Russell's previously unreleased material surfaced last decade, suddenly every singer seemed to be citing him as an inspiration.
It's hardly a surprise, then, that the Red Hot Organization's new benefit compilation, Master Mix: Red Hot + Arthur Russell(available Oct. 21), features more than 20 artists commemorating the queer cult hero. Its lineup alone--with everyone from Robyn and Scissor Sisters to Hot Chip and Jose Gonzalez--is a testament to Russell's far-reaching influence, and the diversity of its 26 reinterpreted tracks demonstrates the breadth of his work. Robyn's fizzy, horn-filled cover of "Tell You (Today)"--a cut from Russell's dance collective, Loose Joints--bursts like fireworks, while Sufjan Stevens's electrofolk take on "A Little Lost" proves that inside Russell's avant-garde production were some pretty lovely pop melodies. Though he was remarkably prolific, Russell put out only two albums before his death. Yet this collection of indie, funk, and four-on-thefloor--all of which sounds totally contemporary--suggests that maybe all the progressive genius needed was a good editor.
Listen to Robyn's "Tell You (Today)" below: