Posts Tagged ‘elliott smith


Reflecting on the genius of Elliott Smith

As most of us with large music collections there is the ebb and flow of revisiting old favorite albums or artists for simply sentimental reasons, or at times just to remind yourself why you chose to keep one album over others.  Recently while deciding which of my 300+ cd’s I wanted to upload to my computer I came across four albums of the late artist Elliott Smith.  There was no doubt in my mind why I had held on to his music, it was classic and timeless; his music (for me) symbolized a close friend always there you could rely on during lonelier days; oddly I felt somewhat guilty having not listened to his music for some time.  It felt like leaving a penpal awaiting a response letter and just saying you would get back to them when you could find the time.  It was also an odd time to rekindle my interest in his music with the 8th anniversary of his death approaching next week on October 21.

I was introduced to Smith’s music on a lark when visiting a past bandmate in LA; he had Smith’s self-titled 1994 album playing in the background and I really liked what I was hearing; I clearly recall the song playing was “Needle In The Hay”.  After that visit I did my best to get as much as I could of Smith’s work and up until about 4 years ago listened to his music on a regular basis.  I was living in Boston at the time and hearing of his death on the way to work; it was a shock and almost one of disbelief; I was saddened on one hand that he was actually gone and at the same time amazed that his death would make mainstream news to report.  It has been said by many that for them it was “the day the music died”; and for my generation, I would have to agree that Smith was one of those bright lights that quickly faded before truly gaining the geniune recognition of their brilliance.  In some ways, art imitated life with Smith; his songs often contained issues about heartbreak, sadness, dissapointment, and emptiness; clearly not the happiest themese or uplifting music much of us tend to gravitate towards.  However, it was just those themes that worked with his compositions and allowed Smith to create a unique sound that would be difficult to geniunely replicate.  It would appear that Smith was far more comfortable hiding in the shadows and releasing albums for a dedicated underground fan base.  From interviews I ‘ve seen or heard, he appeared to be a painfully shy person who clearly yearned for artistic freedom, privacy, and appreciated (humbly) his minimal success in whatever form.

When Basement on The Hill was posthumously released a year to his death in 2004; I was so eager to find out what he had been working on since his album  Figure 8.  Smith had not released an album in nearly 4-years.   There had been a buzz prior to the release of Basement on The Hill that it was Smith’s intention for it to be a double-cd set; but much of the material had remained unfinished.  The version of Basement on The Hill that was released was produced by Rob Schapf  who had produced both of Smith’s previous releases XO and Figure 8, and his prior girlfriend, Joanna Bulme of the band Quasi.  Schapf has stated that he did not really produce much on the album and only used the materials that Smith had recorded in the making of the final copy of the album, however, he has also noted that it was most likely not the final product that Smith would have released, regardless he felt that leaving it untouched was the very least he could do to preserve Smith’s artist merit and contribution.  The album was at the very least, a parting gift by Smith’s family to provide some solace marking the first anniversary of his death to those that admired his music. 

There are few artists who I can honestly say that I like all of their albums equally, Smith would be the exception.  If you do not have albums by Smith, my advice is to start with his 1997 album Either/Or;  just such a solid example of his creativity and gifts as a talented musician and song writer.

There is an interesting SPIN magazine article and reflection about Elliott Smith by Ellen Carpenter, you can click here to read more.


Hoots and Hellmouth – Face First In The Dirt (2011)

This past weekend I decided to head downtown and check out an annual happening in my city, Larkfest.  Larkfest is a culimation and mishmash of various street vendors, artists, and live music.  In addition, it also sprinkles (or dumps) a large helping of obnoxious drunk college students who change the tone later in the day to something truly worth avoiding, especially if you have young children in tow.  Regardless, if you show up early enough it’s actually a worthwhile event; I always enjoy catching some of the random and obscure live musical acts that range from Alternative, Rock-a-billy, Emo-Folk, and Bluegrass, there’s a little of something for everyone.

While strollering my 4 year-old around and my teenage Chinese exchange student we checked out the random ethnic food samplings, tatooed cuties, and a variety of hipster artisans selling t-shirts , cupcakes, and graffitti artwork.  At one piont I passed a tent sponsored by a local radio station where the guy gave me a look and panned down at the plethora of scattered CD’s. It was truly a “come hither stare for free stuff”, and he was very cool about taking as much as I wanted.  The offering of free music was of bands I had never heard of and he knew that; jokingly he said “Yeah, I guess you just have to judge the music by the cover art and take a risk” and he was right.  It was like being offered a mystery free candy yet being unsure you really wanted to find out what it tasted like.  Plus, for most of us, avoiding anything that adds to our physical music collections we do at all costs, especially mystery music.  Regardless, I could not resist and grabbed two albums not wanting to pass up the opportunity for some fresh fodder to review and also not offend the guy offering free music.

I grabbed two albums, one was Jenny Dee and The Deelinqents (to be reviewed later this month), and a band called Hoots and Hellmouth out of Philadelphia, PA.  As with most albums you put in your CD player the first impression is rarely an “oh my god!” moment, and well, this wasn’t one of them either.  However, the band does have something going on in the right direction and I feel they may be one to watch in the future.  The album that I grabbed seems to be more of a sampler rather than a full fledged album and I wanted hear more.  I could find the album on Amazon and it to0 indicated this album was only 4 tracks; this contrasts in comparision to their two prior albums which featured around 10 tracks each; so perhaps it’s just a stripped down album to buy some time.  For what it is worth, it’s a solid sampling of their music and is catchy.

The band has the feel of something between a faster paced version of Dolorean and The Kingsbury Manx; with a twist of Ray Lamontagne without the raspy grit, and a wee bit of Old Crow Medicine Show and some Chatham County Line thrown in for good measure.  Basically, they have a kind of down home sultry folk / country type of sound that appears to making a come back in the underground alternative scene.  While I do like what they are creating for themselves, I’m not sure I’m a fan from the first listen.  It can be truly be said that this band is an “acquired” sound that not everyone is into from the get go;  like Iron and Wine’s sound or the late Elliot Smith’s music, some people pass it off as too mellow or sleepy tending to form automatic opinion’s about its worth or longevity as a something worthwhile to add to a collection.  I think it would be fair to say that Hoots and Hellmouth has a quality sound and feel that is not worth passing up, it’s worth giving a few listens and then forming your own educated decision. Unlike the meloncoly sounds of Smith and Iron and Wine; Hoots and Hellmouth are far livelier and faster paced, definitely some “feel good” music, yet campy.

In closing, I think I would like to hear more about what these guys have put out there and also would be curious if any of our readers have seen these guys live.  Being from Philly myself, I’m partial to liking these guys and giving them a chance.  As always, let us know what you think of this band if you have caught a show, or perhaps send us an opinion on the two prior albums and how they measure up to this release.

Hoots and Hellmouth’s 4-track Face First In The Dirt gets a 3 out of 5.


MIDLAKE – The Courage of Others (2010)

On Monday I posted my second installment of Print o’ The Week and some have emailed me asking what the Midlake in the print meant; good question right?  The print is actually concert poster created by Portland, Oregon artist Dan Stiles for a Midlake show in that city.  But, clearly more of an explanation and album review of the band Midlake would be appropriate.

I stumbled upon Midlake when I began to get interested in Iron and Wine; I had been a die hard Elliot Smith fan for years and the natural progression to these bands makes sense since to a degree they follow a similiar formula and would be catagorized in a similiar genre of music.  In my opinion if you are familiar with the bands Dolorean, Kingsbury Manx, or Chatham County Line and like indie-folk-rock, you will also find Midlake appealing as well. 

Midlake is not a new band by any means, they have actually been together since 2001 and have released 3 albums prior to The Courage of Others (2010).  Midlake’s previous album Trials of Van Occupanther (2006) brought the most notoriety for the band; although remaining relatively an underground album it did gain them a larger loyal following.

Mellow and serene, lying on your back on a sunny day staring at big puffy clouds and dreaming about life and what it all means would sum up what listening to Midlake is like.  Lead singer Tim Smith has a Thom Yorke  (Radiohead) quality to his singing, but defines himself with a lullaby quality that is complimented by the always apparent folky flute and piano balladesque indie-folk-r0ck tempos.   The Courage of Others takes the band down a similiar path as Van Occupanther, however, there is a greater sense of sincerity in this album.  The first song Acts of Man is a deeply moving, honest and just a simply fantastic arrangment highlighting the use of harmony that the band  mastered and created as a signature of their music.  Winter Dies starts off with a faster tempo that is quite unexpected and then regresses into a solid mellow mood that just continues to keep the album together. Songs like Small Mountain,  Core of Nature, and Rulers, Ruling All Things exemplify Midlake‘s wholehearted and ernest attention to detail writing songs over the course of four years between albums.  Like their songs, it is apparent that their work is not taken lightly and not rushed into with wreckless abandonment; clearly the band wants every album to be worthwhile to the one listening.

Midlake’s music is consistently mellow, this is not rock album by any means.  Midlake keeps the mood  and tempo consistent throughout every song.   That is not to say that Midlake’s music is monotonous or repetative, it’s not, however Midlake does keep to a pretty consistent formula never really straying one way or anothe.  In many ways this album, and their previous releases, feel like a story and each song is a the next chapter.   Midlake is not for everyone, for some they might find themselves absolutely bored to tears with this album; others might find it a true gem.  Yet, as I mentioned earlier, if you do like mellow folky-indie sounding  singers or bands you should like Midlake. They fall in between Nick Drake and Dolorean I guess.  If you are able to pick up a copy of The Trials of Van Occupanther do yourself a favor and check it out as well, it is a landmark album for the band.

Midlake is currently touring in Europe and I hope they swing back in the US for some dates.  The band hails out of Texas, so I’m sure upon their return they will play there first.  Check out Midlake’s website at to hear a few songs in their entirety.

You can also listen to a dozen or few samples of Midlake’s music from various albums by clicking here .


Elliott Smith – New Songbook Released

As a follow up to the Christopher O’Riley Elliott Smith tribute album review, I was informed by a HiFi reader that a tab songbook of Elliott Smith has just been released in time for the holidays by the Hal Leonard Corporation and arranged by Fred Sokolow; very cool eh?

The ISBN is 1423440137 and runs about $20.  It is rather hearty at 80 pages.  There is an urban legend out there about a comprehensive Smith tab book entitled “The Essential Elliott Smith”, but I’m not sure where this you?

I’m sure this would make a pretty nifty gift for the holidays.


Christopher O’Riley – Home to Oblivion (Elliott Smith)

Being an Elliott Smith fan I was really sad to hear about his passing a few years ago; it was a huge loss to the music world.  Smith’s work, although popular among certain circles, remains still unheard by many, even posthumously he has not received the accolades he deserves for his profound contributions he made with his music.

A few years after his death I was introduced through a segment on National Public Radio (NPR) about a number of tribute albums being released in his honor.  One in particular that caught my attention was by classical pianist Christopher O’Riley.  O’Riley had been a fan of Smith’s compositions and noted how complicated and uniquely structured they were for someone who was not formally trained in writing music; he decided to transcribe them for piano in honor of Smith’s genius. 

Home To Oblivion: An Elliott Smith Tribute (2006) is O’Riley’s fantastic representation of a variety of Smith’s work in the classical style.  O’Riley hand picked the songs he liked from a broad spectrum of albums spanning Smith’s early work on Roman Candle (1994) to his last album A Basement On The Hill (2004) which was unfinished and released shortly after his death.

The album is sincere and slow, clearly O’Riley’s intentions were to create an album that would both represent the beauty of Smith’s arrangements yet also create a mood for the listener to reflect upon how much more could have been if Smith was alive today.  O’Riley has done several tribute albums reflecting the music of Radiohead and the late Nick Drake. 

Although a solid album a  highlights  would be “Let’s Get Lost” and “I Don’t Understand”, simply incredible and worth buying just for those songs alone.  You can listen to the album in its entirety prior to buying by going to LaLa Music and typing O’Riley’s name in the search bar.

Christopher O’Riley’s Home To Oblivion: An Elliott Smith Tribute gets 4 out of 5 stars.

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