January 26th, 2018 | Album reviews

Luther Russell
Selective Memories: An Anthology
Hanky Panky / Burger

This fellow’s been around seemingly forever and this two-disc CD retrospective serves as less a career summation than a thorough, even fussily made case for his peculiar genius. His career ranges from early recordings with Jakob Dylan as the Bootheels to a major-label shot helming the Freewheelers through two studio albums, then as an exceptionally long-lived, increasingly musically ambitious solo artist. The two Bootheels tracks are jejune stuff that situates the listener snugly within what was thought of as traditional rock in the very late 1980s. This mildly punky roots-rock gave way to a more varied palette from the Freewheelers, though Russell’s voice maintains the same juicy raggedness. “Don’t Cry” and “Kill Me” are brilliantly scabrous and the rocker’s post-major label songwriting turned more intimate as his skill at producing became surer and more varied; check the phasing and psychedelic effects on “Seven.” Grunge (“Smoke Signals”) eventually overtook him but he shook it off and kept going. “Lonely Planet Song” is a standout among the several instrumentals included, which range in mood from agitated Mar-Keysian to Can-like nirvanic. “Arthur Lee” is an unironic even corny but lovely and touching shout-out to one of his more obvious inspirations. “Tell Me If My Love’s Too Late” is a small jewel of ambered regret. “Empty Taxis” shows his sense of pop melody evolved to Moulding-Partridge level of skill if not sensibility. His authorial voice, weary, yet hopeful and in the best way nostalgic; remains the same, though time has filed down the edges of his serrated vocals. Since over half these 41 songs are previously unreleased, this amounts to a fresh introduction to a legacy you maybe didn’t know existed.

—Ron Garmon