All 185 of the "String Quartet Tributes to . . ." combined aren't worth the $15 a Christopher O'Riley tribute will run you. The pianist cut his teeth on Beethoven, Bach, and Stravinsky before moving on to the slightly less-lauded Radiohead. Now he's turned his classically trained digits to Elliott Smith, the erratic, addicted singer-songwriter whose apparent suicide gives his mopey lyrics a certain authenticity: He always got the worst of it, and he always felt like shit.
Unlike the subject of many a high-minded tribute, Smith actually used the instrument at hand. Stripped of his cries for help, the compositions still convey a fatal melancholy. But one of rock's dirty little secrets undercuts Home to Oblivion: Unless he's your designated musical martyr, a little Smith goes a long way. And as with his piano tributes to Radiohead, O'Riley avoids the songs you really want to hear. "Waltz #2 (XO)" is absent, and apparently the scales-like "Sweet Adeline" was too much of a slam-dunk for a Carnegie Hall kid. Or maybe -- in fact, let's hope -- the crossover jazz trio the Bad Plus called dibs on them.