- by Nathan Fidler Rating:5 Release Date:2016-10-14 Label: American Laundromat Records
The difficulty in reviewing a tribute album for someone who has passed is that it’s often well-meaning, but ultimately ends up reminding you of how much an artist is missed. Following a reasonably successful documentary on his life and his troubles in 2014, Say Yes! A Tribute To Elliott Smith is a collection of covers of some of his best known songs.
There are some big (okay, medium) names attached, including William Fitzsimmons, Yuck, Waxahatchee and J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. Everyone does a decent job of their respective tracks, but they’re mostly so lovingly performed that they offer little in the way interest.
To say you’re better off listening to the originals is not meant in a bitter way. Half the joy of discovering an artist is stumbling in halfway through their chronology, buying up their albums haphazardly and picking your own favourite tracks.
Jesu and Sun Kil Moon provide the most interpretive and daring cover with a spoken word, electronic rendition of ‘Condor Ave’. It steals the sweetness of the melody, but highlights the imagery of the lyrics, so it’s swings and roundabouts.
Very rarely is a cover greater than it’s original, but you’ve got to really take a song out of its comfort zone to really make any impression. Given that Elliott Smith still feels like a contemporary musician, it's possible that the people here are treating his music with a little too much respect. Given another 10-20 years, people might feel more comfortable tackling his songs in a different way, making a project like this more interesting for fans.
It feels mean to put down on this album, but it serves little purpose. Perhaps it could serve as a bridge into the man’s music for those who have never heard it before - but such was his trajectory that few people won’t already have heard of him. That’s all there is to say; now to dive into that rich, misery soaked back catalogue.