Elliott Smith – Roman Candle/From a Basement on the Hill (Kill Rock Stars)

These two albums – bookends of Smith’s all too brief solo career, with Roman Candle released in 1994, and From A Basement on a Hill released posthumously in 2007 – are newly issued by Kill Rock Stars, with Roman Candle getting a much needed remastering and From A Basement On The Hill having no noticeable differences from the previously released version. In addition to being chronological bookends, they also represent the extremes of Elliot Smith’s growth. His solo debut Roman Candle was an intimate affair mostly featuring just Smith and his guitar, that felt like you’re eavesdropping on a private performance, rather than an album recorded for public consumption. You can already hear the honesty and pain in Smith’s voice and lyrics as he tackles his own battles with depression, social anxiety, and substance abuse. Thirteen years later, on From A Basement On The Hill, Smith is still vocally and lyrically the same performer, but he was fleshing out his songs with a big rock band, including contributions from members of Quasi, The Flaming Lips, and Beachwood Sparks, among others. While some prefer his stripped-down earlier work to the almost arena-level rock of his last few releases, I find both equally effective. If there’s one complaint to be made about From A Basement On  The Hill it’s that the posthumous production work (done by Rob Schnapf and Smith’s ex-girlfriend) feels heavy-handed and at odds with the rest of his discography. This small complaint aside, all of Smith’s albums are worth owning, so if you haven’t heard either of these before, now is a great time to pick them up.