Elliott Smith – An Introduction (CD review)

Elliott Smith – An Introduction to Elliott Smith (Kill Rock Stars) CD review

It’s one of  the strangest music-on-TV moments ever: little-known Elliott Smith, looking uncomfortable in a too-big white suit, spilling his heart out on acoustic guitar during the 1997 Academy Awards, sandwiched between plastic performances by Trisha Yearwood and Celine Dion.  His “Miss Misery” was nominated for Best Song, but lost to juggernaut Dion and her Titanic-voiced hit.

As surreal a moment as that was, it showed how out of step Smith’s music was compared to the manufactured pop and over-blown post grunge that was dominating radio at the time.  Now, years later, it’s Smith’s music that has held up the best.  An Introduction to Elliott Smith is the first-ever retrospective of his all-too-short solo career.  The disc is heavy on his stripped-down acoustic songs with his trademark whispery vocals; “Needle in the Hay” sounds creepily like Smith is in the room with you, while “Last Call” is the demo that got him his first record contract.

There are some surprises here too: “Pretty (Ugly Before)” sounds like Tom Petty with its 12-string guitar, while “Pictures of Me,” despite the subject matter, is downright bouncy.  “Miss Misery (early version)” shows his Oscar-nominated song in a more intimate setting.  Although some may quibble that this set is light on his last two albums for major label Dreamworks (it is inexplicably missing “Baby Britain”), as the title suggests, this is an “introduction” only: if you like what you hear, there is plenty more to be enjoyed.  –Tony Peters