Release Date: Oct 14, 2016
Record label: American Laundromat Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter, Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Indie Pop, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
Elliott Smith has always garnered a great deal of respect from fellow songwriters. His balance of melancholic indie folk and nuanced pop sophistication stuck a chord with fans and peers alike, who were drawn to his honesty and vulnerability. Since his untimely death in 2003, a handful of tribute albums have appeared, with 2016's Say Yes! offering a number of high quality renditions.
We never deserved Elliott Smith. The Portland-via-Nebraska musician redefined what it meant to be a singer-songwriter, what it meant to write folk songs, what a human was capable of doing with an acoustic guitar in hand — all before the nation at large could even begin to understand the intricacies of his music. As recent tales surface, from oral histories to documentaries, that artistry becomes illuminated once more and, in turn, passed on to a new generation.
Julien Baker was eight years old when Elliott Smith died. She’s not old enough to have experienced him as an active musician or even as a living person, which isn’t a knock against her. On Say Yes! A Tribute to Elliott Smith, she shows how a new generation of singer-songwriters are learning from his example. She renders “Ballad of Big Nothing” even breathier and more precarious than the original, a performance held together by tensile guitar licks and a grim determination.
I terms of independent music, the cast for Say Yes! is pretty much as close as it gets to all-star: J. Mascis, Waxahatchee, Amanda Palmer, Yuck, and Julien Baker are among those enlisted to tribute one of the most talented songwriters to ever occupy these circles. Sadly, large parts of Say Yes! feel uninspired and lazy. .
Having done admirable fan-friendly jobs of curating career-rebooting releases from Tanya Donelly and The Juliana Hatfield Three over the last eighteen months or so, American Laudromat Records returns again to a long-running passion for rehabilitating the historically-tarnished status of tribute albums. Perhaps feeling a justified confidence boost after 2014’s conceptually-imaginative, positively-received and beautifully-packaged Wes Anderson film score homage I Saved Latin!, this newly-cut Elliott Smith commemoration comes with the extra pull of another even stronger cast of ‘named artists’ and invitingly minimalistic yet lush artwork. A complex creative on a personal-level, it’s hard to know exactly what the late Smith would have made of the ongoing posthumous attention his work has received; recently re-magnified by the Heaven Adores You documentary film with its attendant archive-scouring soundtrack, exorbitant gourmet coloured vinyl album reissues of XO and Figure 8 on Bong Load Records and a more affordable refurnished vintage 1994 split-7” with Pete Krebs on Suicide Squeeze.