You might not know Luther Russell by name, but you’ve probably heard music he’s made with the likes of Jakob Dylan (Wallflowers), Jody Stephens (Big Star), Brian Bell (Weezer), Ethan Johns (Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams) and countless others. Selective Memories: An Anthology, out February 23 on Hanky Panky, is a two-CD compilation of Russell’s material that’s a stellar introduction for newcomers to this musician’s musician. Russell will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.
Russell: This 1963 LP sits on my turntable at the moment, unable to come off anytime soon. It’s one of those records that makes you do what you used to do when you were young: Either flip back and forth between the a- and b-sides, or just leave on a side until further notice. It’s simply a slice of sonic, melodic and emotional perfection, the likes of which will not be bettered in the future. This has been a favorite of my father’s since I can remember, so I know it well, yet understand it so much better now. Let’s start with the singer: Johnny Hartman, terminally underrated, his exquisitely enunciated and delivered lines wrought to perfection by his immaculately contained emotion. He delivers the meaning of the song first, yet couched in a technical expertise that any musician would die to have. That’s a lethal combination, for most singers this gifted tend to lack sufficient amount of feeling. Yet Hartman stands in a very select group with Chet Baker, Billie Holliday, Nat “King” Cole and Sinatra as masters of a certain era of song, where you hear the lyric first and the musicality afterward. Then how about the band? Just the My Favorite Things/Love Supreme-era quartet of John Coltrane, Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison and McCoy Tyner … killing’ it. Slaying it. Saying it. Laying it down. Just go get it, stream it, beam it, do what you have to do. You’ll be a happy person for it.