Posted May 23, 2020 by Jeff in Tunes

Reissue to Include Earliest Known Live Recording of Elliott Smith Performing as a Solo Act

Elliot Smith by JJ Gonson
Elliot Smith by JJ Gonson

Artists such as Billie Eilish, Pearl Jam and Frank Ocean have covered songs by the late, great Elliott Smith. 

Now, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Smith’s self-titled second solo album, Kill Rock Stars is set to release Elliott Smith: Expanded 25th Anniversary Edition on August 28.

The package includes a new remastering of the original record and a bonus disc of the earliest known recording of Smith performing as a solo act on September 17, 1994 at Portland, Oregon’s café and “art salon” Umbra Penumbra. The reissue includes a 52-page coffee table book with handwritten lyrics, reminiscences from Smith’s friends and colleagues about his life at the time he was writing and recording this album, and two dozen previously unseen photographs from the era by JJ Gonson, who shot the image on the album’s cover (the original photo that became the cover is also seen here for the first time).

Leading up to the reissue’s release, Kill Rock Stars will release covers of Smith’s songs from this album.  Artists confirmed for the project thus far include Bonny Light Horseman – the new project of Anais Mitchell (Hadestown), Eric D. Johnson (Fruit Bats) and Josh Kaufman (Muzz, Bob Weir, Josh Ritter) — Marisa Anderson, MAITA, Prateek Kuhad and Califone.  

When Elliott Smith was released in July 1995, it was out-of-step with so much that was popular at the time that it only received recognition from artists such as the Beastie Boys and Fugazi. 

“I’ve always felt like this record is underappreciated,” says Kill Rock Stars founder Slim Moon in a press release about the reissue. “A lot of people overlook Elliott’s first two records—they think of them as a prelude to the bigger albums that followed—but when you go back, you discover they’re really great. This is Elliott’s most fragile and delicate music, and we wanted to honor that with a special and beautiful package.”

For this release, producer/engineer Larry Crane, the official archivist for the Smith family, dug through files, reels, cassettes and DAT tapes to find the closest sources to the original Elliott Smith first-generation mix downs and spent days to carefully transfer and clean up the audio from the Umbra Penumbra high-quality cassette. 

“There are fan-traded MP3s out there of this show, but when people hear what I was able to extract from this original tape, they’ll be shocked,” says Crane.

The Umbra Penumbra show gives a sense of the contrast between Smith’s live and studio approaches.

“He was goofier on stage, making jokes and messing with his own words,” says Gonson. “He worked the words very carefully — he was very admiring of Joni Mitchell and how she wrote. So it was fun, you’d hear a song and then it would change.”

A few years after the album was released, the singer himself looked back on the album as something that laid the groundwork for his image and his career.

“I think that record gave me a reputation for being a really dark, depressed person,” Smith famously said, “but I think I’m just about as happy as all the other people I know. Which is occasionally.”

Photo: Elliott Smith on vacation in BC (1994) credit JJ Gonson. Photographer JJ Gonson is releasing a series of select photo prints for a limited-time offer available exclusively through Morrison Hotel Gallery.


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].