Has Elliott Smith really been gone so long that it’s okay for someone to assume all of his songwriting characteristics? I vote no. Ashton Allen votes yes. On Dewdrops the singer/songwriter cozies up to Smith trademarks like double-tracked hushed vocals, insistent strummed acoustic guitar and an overall baroque-pop sound. Tracks like “Counting the Cost” are almost indistinguishable arrangement-wise from something off Either/Or. How this sits with you will depend largely on how much you value a line of separation between similar artists. Of course, Allen’s aping doesn’t stop at Smith but continues through to George Harrison (“If You Leave”) and Sufjan Stevens (“Better Than I Know” and “Prodigal Son”). Only “Steven’s Song” really feels like a comfortable, non-derivative fit, its soaring horns harkening back to a ’70s Vegas act. If this review seems unnecessarily bitter, it’s because it’s obvious Allen has songwriting chops, he just needs to find a more personal style to express it. Still, I’ll take this, warts and all, over another lackluster John Mayer interpretation any day.
Livewire Recordings: www.livewirerecordings.net