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Various Artists 

To: Elliott From: Portland

Wednesday, Feb 8 2006
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How can an Elliott Smith tribute album go wrong? The guy was practically deified before his apparent suicide in 2003, and the exaltation has only continued since. But such an homage presents a dilemma: Adding too much of a new twist to Smith's songs (say, a death metal "Pitseleh") might seem arrogant or inappropriate, while playing it too straight only proves the superiority of the original. This compilation of covers by Portland bands (the Decemberists, Helio Sequence, Dolorean, the Thermals, and more) gets caught in the no man's land in between, resulting in 15 generally lackluster versions of songs culled mostly from Smith's Either/Or and self-titled albums. (Notable exception: Lifesavas' rap-and-beats-enhanced take on "Happiness.") It's not that the tunes are bad, obviously, nor the musicianship; it's just that Elliott Smith's music was so chillingly great because it was infused with his misery, his anguish, his heartache. Hearing other people try to sing his words with the same intensity feels inauthentic and just makes you long for the original. Still, die-hards will find something to love here, and it's hard to knock the fact that 10 percent of the proceeds go to Smith's charity for abused kids.

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Maya Kroth

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