Tribute albums are always risky propositions, especially when the feted artist tended to record definitive versions of the songs, and what artist in recent memory sounded surer of his music than Elliott Smith? To: Elliott From: Portland is, per the title, a collection of Smith covers by hometown artists, both known (Decemberists, the Thermals) and obscure. Assembled and overseen by Smiths friend and one-time roommate Sean Croghan who also contributes a previously unreleased song, the sinister High Times, to the collection To: Elliott is something of a family affair, and the artists here thankfully sound intimately familiar with Smiths music. Though no one opts for a straight cover, most wisely hew to the original arrangements, allowing Smiths brilliant melodic sense to carry the day even on the most imaginative renditions: The Decemberists give the bar-crawler ode Clementine a suitably raw, jagged reading, while Doloreans performance of The Biggest Lie, a minor overlooked gem in Smiths catalog, comes closest to evoking the sound of the man himself. Newcomers will always want to begin with Smiths own body of work, but for aficionados To: Elliott is a wistful but loving testimony to a sorely missed talent.
Eric Waggoner writes about books for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.