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New Moon

Elliot Smith was nothing if not prolific but it still comes as something of a surprise when, almost four years after his death, a double album’s worth of mostly unheard material is unearthed.

Rating: 7 ½ / 10

Colm O'Hare, 28 May 2007

Elliot Smith was nothing if not prolific but it still comes as something of a surprise when, almost four years after his death, a double album’s worth of mostly unheard material is unearthed. The fact that the two dozen songs on this unexpected release are of such high quality is a testament to Smith’s genius, further underlining the tragedy and waste of his death by suicide at just 34.

Spanning the years 1994 to 1997 New Moon contains seven songs taken from the sessions for his self-titled debut, seven from the Either/Or sessions (including the previously omitted title track) three radio performances and three more from sessions at Jackpot! Studios in Portland Oregon. Despite their disparate origins this is no hotchpotch of leftovers and out-takes, and as the liner notes state, these songs could have easily been included on any of those albums. Why they weren’t will remain a mystery but perhaps the lyrical subject matter was too stark, even by Elliot’s standards. A troubled, tortured soul if ever there was one (he suffered from acute depression and drug-induced paranoia) and there are clues to his state of mind everywhere; ‘Looking Over My Shoulder’ betrays his fear of being stalked, while the gorgeous ‘New Disaster’ displays an emotional fragility when it comes to relationships “I wonder what it is you’re after keeping company with this disaster”.

Most of the backdrop is acoustic guitar with Smith’s distinctively plaintive double-tracked vocals, though there are some fuller band arrangements as on the terrific trio of ‘High Times’, ‘New Monkey’and ‘Fear City’ – the latter featuring Smith on both drums and organ. A handful of the songs ‘Talking To Mary’ and ‘Seen How Things Are Hard’ are rough and ready demos recorded on 4-track cassette but are no less compelling.

Meanwhile ‘Either/Or’ an organ drenched strum was inexplicably deemed inappropriate by Smith for inclusion on the album of the same name but is well worth hearing while the version of ‘Pretty Mary K’ is completely different from the song of the same name from the Figure 8 album. Another highlight is his sparse take on Big Star’s ‘Thirteen’ – a staple of his live sets while also included is an early version of ‘Miss Misery’ for which he was Oscar-nominated for its inclusion on the movie Good Will Hunting.

A fascinating collection then, fans will want to own what surely must be the final installment from the singer songwriter once famously described as “someone you don’t so much listen to, as commiserate with”.
Rating: 7 ½ / 10

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