It’s been nearly 14 years since the tragic death of tortured singer songwriter Elliott Smith, and after all this time people still appreciate the beauty in his music. The artists contributing to ‘A Brief Smile’, a tribute compilation to raise money for the Elliott Smith Memorial Fund, certainly do.
Many of these tracks don’t do a lot with Smith’s original compositions and are just straight covers, and that’s fine. But those that work the best are the ones that shake things up. The Smoking Popes do an excellent job of turning ‘Let’s Get Lost’ into a punchy, upbeat, punky number, while Daria put a doom-metal stamp on ‘Waltz #1’ and manage to pull it off without sounding hokey.
The album’s greatest accomplishment is SEA+AIR’s ‘Everything Means Nothing To Me’, a low-key, swirling psychedelic take on the track. They don’t change the actual arrangement too much, but rather play it in an effectively creepy way, making for an unsettling atmosphere.
Ducking Punches’ ‘Needle in the Hay’ is something of a disappointment. While some of the guitar work is good, Dan Allen’s vocals just can’t convey the pathos of Smith’s original performance. This could be seen as an unfair criticism, as the original ‘Needle in the Hay’ is a lot to live up to.
However, John Allen’s ‘Between the Bars’ and Franz Nicolay’s ‘Everything Reminds Me of Her’ are carried by great performances from each singer, while Rob Moir’s ‘Bled White’ features a lovely vocal play-off between Moir and Abigail Lapell. These tracks prove that it is possible to do justice to the emotional weight behind Smith’s singing, which makes Ducking Punches’ cover all the more disappointing.
While ’A Brief Smile’ isn’t going to set the world on fire and largely sticks close to Smith’s blueprint, there are a few gems (enough to outweigh the duds) scattered throughout it that warrant a listen, and if that isn’t enough – it’s for a worthy cause.
‘A Brief Smile: A Tribute to Elliott Smith’ is out now on Funk Turry Funk.
Words by Alan Cunningham (@funeral_polis)