Covers are stubborn. For every magical Jimi Hendrix-“All Along the Watchtower” combination, hundreds of reinterpretations crash and burn. When Arcade Fire performed a new cover at every show on their Reflektor tour, for instance, they often fell short, because, well, even the Greatest Freakin’ Indie Band will struggle to nail iconic recordings by R.E.M. and Sam Cooke. Sometimes brilliance strikes, like on Cat Power’s The Covers Record, but tribute albums are frequently dull and all too often smack of washed-up stars trying to channel legends.
Considering these challenges, Master Mix: Red Hot + Arthur Russell, the new tribute dedicated to one of New York City’s most seminal (and unappreciated) musicians, is remarkable. Arthur Russell isn’t a household name, but this star-studded album could make listeners wonder why.