Richard Russell – Everything is Recorded (XL)
“It is possible to feel alone and not work alone,” intones a voice at the beginning of this record. If Richard Russell feels lonely, his debut album doesn’t show it.
Richard Russell is a label executive, not a musician: his label, XL, launched the careers of Dizzee Rascal, Vampire Weekend, the Xx—and, oh, yeah, Adele. As a producer, he helmed comeback records—what turned out to be final records—for American legends Gil Scott-Heron and Bobby Womack, as well as the first two albums by French-Cuban sister act Ibeyi. He was the subject of an extensive New Yorker magazine profile eight months before the release of his debut album as an artist.
Richard Russell’s debut album does not feature him behind the mic: he has too many friends he’d rather showcase instead. That includes Mercury Prize-winning R&B star Sampha, Nigerian-British MC Obongjayar, Canadian singer-songwriter Rachel Zeffira, and even British icons like Peter Gabriel and Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside (yes, he’s a legend in Britain). Instrumental players include Gorillaz’ Damon Albarn, jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington and string arranger Owen Pallett. A featured artist throughout is Infinite (not to be confused with Infinite from Toronto’s Ghetto Concept), a 24-year-old soul singer from New York—who happens to be Ghostface Killah’s gay son.
That all looks good on paper, but most music fans already knew Russell had a lot of famous friends—he could easily have called up Adele if he wanted to cash in on his contact list. Can he make all these disparate artists work together? The man is a born curator, and he has a clear musical vision, so the answer is: yes, of course. Russell’s preferred musical aesthetic is a late-night, 21st-century take on ’70s soul, with a heavy dub reggae influence. That “soundsystem” approach allows him to feature his guests in a stark setting, with plenty of tasty production touches underneath—not unlike Massive Attack, an obvious influence.
Everything is Recorded could easily have been a throwaway vanity project by a label exec who fancied himself an artist. The end result is anything but. (Feb. 16)
Stream: “Mountains of Gold” feat. Sampha, Ibeyi, Wiki and Kamasi Washington, “Show Love” feat. Syd and Sampha, “Be My Friend” feat. Infinite