In the early '90s, as one-half of Kicks Like a Mule, Richard Russell was among the young underground dance music artists vaulted from pirate radio to Top of the Pops. Shortly before his unlikely crossover, Russell had a solo demo rejected by the fledgling XL Recordings, and within a few years was running the label, leading it through critical and/or commercial successes by the likes of the Prodigy, the White Stripes, M.I.A., and Adele. Russell continued to venture far afield of his humble breakbeat 'ardkore beginnings by producing some of the label's most admired releases. Startling left turns from long-absent R&B giants Gil Scott-Heron and Bobby Womack, and two gems by classification-defying duo Ibeyi, were among them. Another Russell-driven XL project, Everything Is Recorded debuted in 2017 with three 12" releases that led to this largely downcast yet comforting album. Despite what the project's name implies and Russell's busload of rappers, singers, and fellow players -- a head count that greatly exceeds the 13 names listed beneath the track list -- Everything Is Recorded is the opposite of an unfocused mess. Triumphal XL rapper Giggs does sound mismatched with sampled dark prince of reggae Keith Hudson, and Wiki's string of non sequiturs disrupts one of Sampha's turns. Otherwise, the set comes across as remarkably crafted and measured, from its predominantly slow tempos and recurring elements to the coalescence of shrewdly applied samples and participants who also include pianist Peter Gabriel and saxophonist Kamasi Washington. Amid the rotation of over a dozen vocalists, Sampha and the equally vulnerable-sounding Infinite (son of Ghostface Killah) gradually emerge as the central figures, aching for companionship and expressing sorrow about betrayal and misunderstanding. Most apt is a moving Ibeyi-fronted cover of "Cane," written by Gil Scott-Heron -- to whom the album is dedicated -- and based on two of the women in Harlem Renaissance author Jean Toomer's novel of the same title.
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman