Luther Russell

Selective Memories: An Anthology

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Luther Russell isn't famous, though he probably ought to be. He's been making and releasing music steadily since the mid-'80s; he's worked with a few honest-to-goodness rock stars; he's had big-budget major-label record deals, and chances are good you've heard his music on TV, even if you don't know it. So far, Russell has had to settle for being a cult figure, but if you want to know why a small but discerning audience adores him, the 2017 collection Selective Memories: An Anthology amply demonstrates his abundant talent. More than half of the 41 tracks on Selective Memories are previously unreleased, and some of the most appealing tunes here are demos and studio outtakes that show off Russell's ability to multi-track himself into an impressive combo, though he also works well with other musicians. The set opens with two demos from Russell's first band of note, the Bootheels, which included Jakob Dylan and Tobias Miller years before they formed the Wallflowers, and their Replacements-style roar is pretty great for a handful of teenagers (Russell was only 17 when the band was formed). Later, Russell offers samples from his work with the Freewheelers (who cut fine but underappreciated albums for the DGC and American labels) and Federale (a short-lived band that paired Russell with Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford), but the majority of this collection focuses on his solo work, and this music shows Russell is an honestly gifted singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, and producer. Evolving from punky snark to heartfelt roots rock to jazzy instrumentals to semi-acoustic folk/blues musing to smart pop that makes him sound like a natural heir to Alex Chilton, Russell never misses a step here, and his vocals, by turn rough and sweet, are versatile enough to follow him at every turn. As a lyricist, Russell can be playful but is often insightful, and if there's an instrument he can't play, he keeps it a secret on these recordings. Anyone wanting a thorough introduction to the musical world of Luther Russell will find Selective Memories to be an ideal starting place, while devoted fans will want to hear the wealth of archival recordings he's unearthed for this release. Either way, this is great music from a talent deserving far greater recognition.

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