Riding high on the wave of folk popularity, The Avett Brothers have taken the music world by storm with a combination of genuine talent, relentless touring, and prodigious album releases over the past few years. Though the quality of original work like their most recent LP, the Grammy-nominated I and Love and You, would be enough to keep attracting new fans, the Avetts have also produced a remarkable number of high-quality covers in recent years. There was a massive field to choose from, including this month’s Roger Miller cover, but we’ve narrowed it down to the five finest covers from the North Carolina siblings and their bandmates.
MP3: The Avett Brothers – Glory Days (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Much like the first covered artist on this list, the Avetts have maintained a close relationship with their home state, North Carolina– their following is strongest in the South. With that in mind, it makes sense that they chose to take on a hit from proud New Jersey resident Bruce Springsteen as part of the “Hangin’ Out on E Street” cover series. The band gives Springsteen’s classic an acoustic folk makeover complete with cello, upright bass, and banjo, producing a track with a down-home feel that compliments the lyrics about revisiting your hometown.
MP3: The Avett Brothers – Spanish Pipedream (John Prine cover)
The Avetts take a similar approach for a cover of John Prine’s “Spanish Pipedream,” their contribution to a Prine tribute disc called Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows. In what might be their best cover, the band accompanies Prine’s simple, sometimes comic lyrics with deftly picked bluegrass banjo. They don’t make any massive changes to Prine’s original, but it’s a fun gesture of friendship from one group of Southern folk musicians to another.
MP3: The Avett Brothers – The Prettiest Thing (David Childers cover)
The Avetts have carved out a nice niche for themselves in the production of gentle, high quality folk covers. They reprise the four-part lineup from “Glory Days” for a cover of David Childers’ “The Prettiest Thing,” adding an extra layer of harmonica to the track. “Prettiest Thing” has a very personal connection for the Avetts – bassist Bob Crawford is a longtime fan of Childers and even recently convinced Childers to come out of retirement for a collaboration they’ve named Overmountain Men. Crawford’s fondness for Childers and his music comes through in the harmonies he shares with Seth Avett, which form the backbone of the track.
MP3: The Avett Brothers – Back Home Again (John Denver cover)
Continuing the down-home theme, the Avett siblings and Crawford present a stripped-down take on John Denver’s “Back Home Again.” They performed the gentle, slowly paced cover at the celebration of Denver’s induction to the Red Rocks Hall of Fame in his beloved Colorado. The combination of venue and apt song choice create a poignant moment that showcases the Avetts’ musical talents and Denver’s legacy. Check out an alternate video of the performance for a fun backstage look at their pre-show moments.
MP3: The Avett Brothers – I Love (Tom T. Hall cover)
This countdown might suggest that The Avett Brothers only produce covers of other folk artists. That isn’t the case – they’ve covered everyone from Aretha Franklin (“Natural Woman”) to Billy Joel (Seth Avett’s solo “Movin’ Out”) to Elliot Smith (another Seth cover, this time “Angeles”). But they do best when reinvigorating songs that share some qualities with their own musical aesthetic – personal, laid back, and infused with a touch of humor. Their version of singer-songwriter Tom T. Hall’s classic “I Love” has a lot in common with the Prine and Denver covers above in its gentility and good-natured comedic lyrics. It provides a nice conclusion to a set of covers that show what the Avetts do best – perform high-quality, relatable folk music with genuine affection for their art and audience.