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In Home to Oblivion: An Elliott Smith Tribute O'Riley does more than deliver, he interprets.

CD Review: Christopher O’Riley — Home to Oblivion: An Elliott Smith Tribute

There’s something complex and beautiful when music is delivered by piano alone. In Home to Oblivion: An Elliott Smith Tribute O’Riley does more then deliver, he interprets, and the emotions expressed through the ivory keys are as deep and profound as the omitted lyrics.

Elliott Smith began a solo career in 1994 and became well known for his grunge style rock and his confessional song lyrics. In 1999, his song “Miss Misery” was used in the movie Good Will Hunting and he later won an Oscar for best original song. His life was tormented with addictions and he died in 2003 at the young age of 34 from a (possibly self-inflicted) stab wound.(Wikipedia)

Christopher O’Riley first stumbled across Smith’s music through another movie, American Beauty. The song was a cover of the Beatles’ hit “Because.” He says in the liner notes of Home to Oblivion it was only after Smith’s death that he became fascinated with his work. The passion for the music led to the CD which interprets more then pays tribute. This is what he does with his tribute albums. (He’s also paid tribute to Radiohead in previous releases.) He conveys every nuance of the music with what can best be described as rising and falling passion.

An example of this would be the track “Oh Well, Okay.” In the Elliott Smith recording which appeared on XO Elliot’s deep and smokey voice delivers sad yet profound lyrics. O’Riley does more than present a tribute to the song, he feels it and he makes the listener feel it as well. From the liner notes of Home to Oblivion,

The so called “Cello Etude of Chopin” was my inspiration for doing “Oh Well, Okay.” I wanted to allow the true baritone range of Elliott’s voice to be best emulated by the left hand.

The result is magnificent, nothing is lost and more is gained. O’Riley interprets the songs for himself and for his audience. Some have subtle changes, others are more pronounced but nothing is so far out of context it is unrecognizable. When he says, “As a pianist, I can only emulate the depth and beauty of Elliott Smith’s lyrical gift,” he is selling himself short.

When I first heard the track “Everything Means Nothing to Me” it seemed too complicated. In some places the repetitive scales were distracting and noisy, but after I went back and listened to Smith’s version from Figure 8 I was reminded just how complicated the original song was. Upon repeated listens I got what O’Riley was trying to do and the song has grown on me immensely.

“Stupidity Tries” is another cluttered song on Home to Oblivion but in this case, it doesn’t seem warranted. The original was a simplistic piece with folk influences and what is produced here is quite different. However, different doesn’t mean bad. It’s not my favorite track on the CD, but I do find it attention-grabbing and I have spent a lot of time really listening to it to try and comprehend what O’Riley is trying to convey.

Home to Oblivion: An Elliott Smith Tribute is not only a fitting homage but a new way to look at the music of a great talent performed by a great talent. Smith fans as well as O’Riley fans will enjoy this collection. If you’re unfamiliar with the work of either of these artists, it’s still worth checking out.

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