Christopher O’Riley – Home to Oblivion:An Elliott Smith Tribute – World Village

by | Dec 30, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Christopher O’Riley – Home to Oblivion:An Elliott Smith Tribute – World Village
468056, 65:50 ****:

Classical music has a tradition of transcribing and adapting popular and folk music into its own idiom, whether for vocalists or instrumentalists. Composers like Vaughan Williams, Bartok, and Dvorak all tried their hands at this and were quite successful at it as well. Christopher O’Riley, pianist, arranger and public radio host, has made a name for himself by successfully performing this very same exercise. Past efforts of his include transcribing the alternative music of Radiohead and Nick Drake for solo piano. “Home to Oblivion” is his arrangements of the songs of indie musician Elliott Smith.

Smith wrote quiet and sometimes delicate songs filled with pathos and angst. His original recordings tend to be lean and pared down, and so lend themselves to reinterpretations for piano. It also doesn’t hurt that Smith was also a pianist himself and many of his songs featured this instrument, thus making it a smoother and more direct transition for O’Riley. O’Riley’s arrangements are still closely related to the original, though obviously different. For one thing, this being an instrumental recording, the listener loses out on the lyrics, which were a critical component and entirely the point of Smith’s songs. What are left are the meditative and for the most part restrained renderings of these spare and moving songs. O’Riley introduces a certain amount of complexity and technical finesse in his interpretive performances, but successfully manages to retain the essential characteristics of the originals, capturing most of their emotional core and translating them into a new medium. Compared to Smith’s original recordings, these will be seen as possibly more sterile and deliberate in their execution.

And this leads to my only hesitation in recommending this recording. On its own, it is a fine effort—sonically interesting, emotional moving, and technically accomplished. It’s a fine addition to modern piano music. But for existing fans of Elliott Smith, this will at best be a curiosity and at worst be a disappointment. This recording is not meant for Smith fans, but is intended for established fans of modern classical music who are willing to branch out a bit and take a few (albeit mostly safe) risks—mixing Indie Rock with their classical music in a tasteful and respectful combination.

– Hermon Joyner

1.    Coast to Coast – 5:39
2.    Let’s Get Lost – 2:41
3.    I Didn’t Understand – 2:49
4.    Speed Trials – 4:09
5.    I Better Be Quiet Now – 3:44
6.    Roman Candle – 4:20
7.    Satellite – 3:09
8.    Independence Day – 3:16
9.    Cupid’s Tricks – 3:30
10.    Oh Well, Okay – 3:06
11.    No Life – 4:38
12.    Between the Bars – 2:44
13.    Christian Brothers – 5:48
14.    Everything Means Nothing to Me – 2:59
15.    Waltz #1 – 3:42
16.    Not Half Right – 4:26
17.    Stupidity Tries – 3:18
18.    Bye – 1:43