Whenever the music of Elliott Smith finds its’ way to me, I’ll admit it can be hard not to feel a bit overwhelmed. Elliott’s compassionate composite of chords and voice provided one of the first places I can remember finding beauty, doubt, fear, hope, love, power, and sadness all intersecting at once. It was powerfully emotional…the perfect soundtrack to the range of thoughts and feelings life inevitably throws at most young people. I adored Elliott. Not surprisingly, when he passed, it was one of the first musical death’s to give me a jolt.
So when Elliott’s first fresh notes (From a Basement on a Hill) where released a year after his mysterious death, they sounded like a friendly wink from a musician I gravely missed. Now, with the release of New Moon, the same sentiment finds me again.
Plucked from a time when Elliott was arguably at his best (’94-’97), the 24 tracks of New Moon provide personal, vintage era sketches of what would eventually become his own, impressive self-portrait. Opener “Angel in the Snow” is instantly recognizable...in a way that “Coast to Coast” – from Basement on a Hill – was not. What follows are recordings that offer a touchstone to Elliott’s life that, in many ways, his live performances could not. The awkward, distant, and, dare I say, dying musician I saw before me at the Henry Fonda Theater in January of ’03, is nowhere to be found. Rather, there lies a living, breathing master, working away between the reels of New Moon. Fingers gracefully walking up and down the fret board, his lips puttering together, giant, slow breaths placed between the vocal lines…There is plenty of precious life captured on songs like “Going Nowhere”, “Pretty Mary K (Other Version)”, and “Placeholder”.
New Moon is a wonderful way to remember a musician whose songwriting was absolute. Like in “Looking Over My Shoulder”, he could take unexpected turns with his chords, and display an unmatched vocal range in the most simple and subtle way. On “High Times” and “All Cleaned Out” Elliott cuts and snarls…the complicated sound of a man completely pissed off, but without losing his musical composure. And, probably most overlooked in his body of work, he knew how to find the joy in life when he wanted, as evidenced by “Whatever (Folk Song in C)” and his take on Big Star’s “Thirteen”. - David Pitz