by Jeff Milo
By chance, I drove through my old college campus yesterday. Fittingly, the next day, I'm writing about Elliott Smith, a spectral singer who soundtracked many a chilled autumn amble from dorm to lecture hall. Smith, who died 10 years ago this month, was a songwriter and a voice that simultaneously haunted and comforted the modest-sized generation of 80's babies, coming of age, as it were, into their idealistic, sophomoric 20's during a war on terror and having their hearts broken while living in a world that felt broken...
We may not have known him as well as his contemporaries, his collaborators or those who went to see his early shows in Portland, but we were devoted listeners. You'll hear very few deem Elliott Smith to be of that stigmatized style known as emo... Possibly because the sadness of his odes never felt contrived. That he indulged sadness, heartbreak or universal disenchantment, (through verse,and over a blend of baroque-pop, jangling folk and indie-rock tropes), never came off as obnoxious. His songs were melancholy, but not mopey; his words expressed what felt like stolen thoughts, whispers in your head shushed away.
Okay, so, yeah, you could get emotional over it... But doubly tragic was his end - after long bouts with depression and dependence on drugs and alcohol, he was found dead by stab wounds to the chest. It's sensationally theatrical of me to suggest this - but I remember where I was, what the day was like, what class I went to next...when I found out Elliott Smith was dead.
"Doing a tribute show did not feel like it was appropriate to the occasion or to the kind of artist Smith was," said Jeremy Otto, local singer/songwriter (DandyLyon Whine) and longtime fan of Smith. Smith, who often collaborates in cross-band events and compilations, put the word out that he wanted to organize a tribute album. He credits the enthusiasm and readiness of the Detroit music community, because "it didn't take long for the contributions to come in..."
Rogue Satellites fit perfectly with the minimalist strummer and topsy turvy melodies of "Say Yes," while Jesse Shepherd Bates and George Morris spread the spacey synth and drum machine over "Happiness." The Bruised Reed bring new post-grunge wooziness and charred guitars to one of his most essential song, "Needle In The Hay."
Also features are singer/songwriters Ian Pinchpack, Emily Rose, Brandon Frye, Stephen Austin, Oliver Thompson and Otto -along with The Marvins and DandyLyon Whine