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Cover Art Elliott Smith
XO
[Dreamworks]
Rating: 8.1

There are some people who run a small record label in Olympia, Washington that probably want to kill Elliott Smith today. And for nothing more than becoming a rock star. Yes, the talented indie troubadour has left Kill Rock Stars and now records for Dreamworks, a new major with new money that's quickly compiling an impressive roster. Thanks to Gus Van Sant and his use of Smith's award- winning music in his award- winning film "Good Will Hunting, Elliott got his rugged face in front of millions. Thanks to his vastly talented singing and songwriting, Smith should be around awhile.

The indie cred is out the window but the tunes are still there, so trust me, teenagers-- everything is going to be just fine. If anything, Smith's songwriting continues to improve, as each of the XO's 14 tracks displays his inarguable mastery of the pop song structure more clearly than ever. The feel throughout is light and understated, like something from a barely remembered past, a time when melody was the evening gown and the beat was just something you hung it on. He's a songwriter's songwriter in the finest Paul Simon tradition. Smith's impossibly angelic voice is easy on the ears and occasionally, such as his falsetto on "Waltz #1" and the the a capella "I Didn't Understand," it becomes so utterly weightless it seems like it's going to float into space.

Musically, XO offers few surprises. No duets with KRS-One or collaborations with Howie B. The bigger budget was put to good use, though, allowing Smith to explore some Brian Wilson- inspired harmonies and add the odd horns, strings and lots of piano. Thankfully, these embellishments are subtle, and several songs stay in "guy- and- his guitar" mode, just like on those beloved seven- inches from the days of yore. I'm eyeballing the track listing to try and pull some highlights, but dammit, all of these songs are good-- this album is nothing if not consistent. If you have any interest in this man or in smart, well- crafted pop, you've just gotta pick it up.

-Mark Richard-San

Sound Clip:
"Bled White"
MPEG-LayerII
64kpbs.44kHz.
280k.35sec.

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