There's never been a lack of superlatives that come to mind when describing the work of singer-songwriter Elliott Smith. The urban troubadour is still rarified in his ability to mingle whispery vocals and warm harmonies with achingly all-too-real narratives—as captured in the lyrical documentary Heaven Adores You and its stunning companion soundtrack.
The New York Times once anointed Smith a "luminary of independent rock." The Motion Picture Academy nominated Miss Misery, his tear-jerking anthem from Good Will Hunting, for an Oscar in 1997. And Pitchfork recently ruminated, "When an artist has this gift, they stir powerful needs."
That is why, more than a decade after Smith's passing, fans and peers continue to stoke his rich legacy. This started with his sixth album, the posthumous 2004 album From a Basement on the Hill, and a 2007 compilation New Moon. Today, it's culminated in Heaven Adores You, a documentary and accompanying soundtrack that serve as powerful remembrances of Smith's singular talent.
The film Heaven Adores You (Eagle Rock Entertainment, out now on iTunes, BluRay, and DVD) is as much documentary as it is a remembrance of Smith, at turns meditative and tactile. The first comprehensive look at Smith's life and music, Heaven Adores You was created by Nickolas Rossi, Jeremiah Gurzi, Kevin Moyer, and Marc Smolowitz and features long listens to the music amongst interviews with friends, former band mates and producers, and others who were closest to Elliott.
"Having grown up in Portland and attended the same high school as Elliott—and sharing many mutual friends, too—the subject of Elliott Smith was a sensitive one for me and for many of the people who knew him," says producer and music supervisor Kevin Moyer. "It was our desire to bring the focus of Elliott Smith back to the years that he lived and flourished as an artist, rather than on the tragic final few minutes of his life."
"This," adds Moyer, "is our love letter to Elliott Smith."
Heaven Adores You has screened at more than 35 film festivals, with The Hollywood Reporter declaring it a "deeply respectful documentary…that poignantly evokes Smith's work and the music world's loss." Its soundtrack, featuring 20 tracks—15 of them previously unheard—follows in kind. Part of the proceeds from the soundtrack and score will be donated to Outside In, a charity for the underprivileged located down the street from the Portland high school Smith once attended.
The Heaven Adores You soundtrack is a fascinating and, until now, unforeseen entrée into this prodigious songwriter's dedicated process. "It's a balance between rough and polished works, early and late-career compositions, instrumental and vocals," says music supervisor and soundtrack producer Kevin Moyer. "We were trying to make sure that we showed his evolution as an artist."
Among the gems: Untitled Guitar Finger Picking, written and performed by a 14-year-old Smith, a glimpse of the technical style that permeated Smith's earlier solo albums. Don't Call Me Billy is a potent precursor to Smith's Either/Or-era Fear City. And Unknown Song, one of three instrumentals here, pays homage to Smith's frequent crash-pad/studio, the house belonging to Quasi's Janet Weiss and Sam Coomes. And of course, Moyer made sure to include Smith's first TV appearance, performing Miss Misery on Late Night With Conan O'Brien.
At turns spirited, curious, and poignant, Heaven Adores You is a fertile reminder that while Smith's passing in 2003 may have been heart-breaking, his life's work remains a triumph. Kevin Moyer says, "It's an honor to be able to add to Elliott's already amazing legacy of official music releases. Please know that this soundtrack, much like the film, has been given the heavy thought and respect that it deserves and I have been carefully conferring with those closest to Elliott to build a track list that we think best represents the film and the artist and a friend whom we all miss."
Heaven Adores You Track Listing:
- Untitled Guitar Finger Picking *
- Untitled Melancholy Song *
- Don't Call Me Billy (early version of Fear City) *
- Christian Brothers (performed with Heatmiser) *
- Hamburgers (performed with Neil Gust) *
- Plainclothes Man (Elliott solo version) *
- Unknown Song (instrumental) *
- Say Yes (live at Yo Yo Festival 1997) *
- Unknown (instrumental)*
- Coast to Coast (early version) *
- Waltz #1 (demo)
- Untitled Soft Song in F *
- True Love *
- Miss Misery (live on Late Night with Conan O' Brien) *
- Son of Sam (acoustic)
- The Last Hour (early version) *
- Everything Means Nothing to Me
- I Love My Room *