Some might think this is another round of Elliott Smith’s posthumous work but it’s actually his first album. Kill Rock Stars has re-released and remastered Roman Candle, which was originally released in 1994 on the Cavity Search label. It’s self-recorded and Smith played all the instruments. The album is short, only thirty minutes, but in these eight songs you can see how Smith’s great career started. Smith’s soft melancholy tone is present in the lyrics as one would expect, and the fact that it is a completely self made album doesn’t take away from the quiet fury of his music. The album doesn’t sound like a first album, but rather like a bold, bar-setting collection of fine folk songs.
Contrary to its name, the album doesn’t offer nine individual explosions of balls-of-fire-songs. Each one has spark, but the album as a whole has more of a combined, melded flow. The title track is the most upbeat and maintains its quick layered guitar rhythm throughout its three minutes and thirty-seven seconds. It’s by far the most ball-of-fire of all the songs but creates a nice opening to the album. The rest of the disc follows the classic Smith alternative folk style of beautifully harmonized vocals laid over ear soothing guitar-driven melodies.
Some tracks are delicate ballads like “No Name #3,” a dark lullaby with words like “Watched the dying day blushing in the sky/ Everyone is uptight, so come on night/ Everyone is gone, home to oblivion.” But the fragility melts away in the penultimate and longest track “Last Call” where Smith turns up the amp and adds some grit to his guitars as he sings: “You’re a tongue less talker, you don’t care what you say/ You’re a jaywalker, and you just, just walk away/ that’s all you do.”
This first album is particularly special because it marks the beginning of Smith’s incredible, and unfortunately, short career. Lucky for us, he made five more after Roman Candle, each marking Smith’s evolution as an artist. Roman Candle holds its own in the Smith canon as a first testament to his talent, and his will and need to express himself with music.