Let’s get this out of the way first: Elliott Smith’s songs are not easy to cover. This isn’t necessarily related to virtuosity, but might even be related to the exact opposite. Smith’s voice (squeaky, usually double-tracked, always on the verge of slipping off key) was something that he used as a weapon, tearing right into the heart of his music. Pairing that voice with soul-baring lyrics and melodies that never strayed too far from the Beatles and Beach Boys school of pop music, Smith carved out a segment of the singer-songwriter genre that was all his own.

That being said, Seth Avett (of the Avett Brothers) and Jessica Lea Mayfield have a decent go at it on the informatively titled Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith. Upon first listen, the album’s most glaring problem (for Smith fans, at least) becomes apparent: most of the selections fall very close the originals. “Between the Bars,” probably the most covered song of Smith’s songs (over-covered, if you ask this reviewer), hits all of the original’s beats. “Angeles,” too, is played (albeit a little slower) like a straight transfer of the Either/Or cut. Though, this does raise a question: what’s the alternative? How do you rearrange “Angeles” (perhaps the best candidate for the most wholly representative song in the Elliott Smith catalogue) without losing what makes it special? I imagine these are the questions that Avett and Mayfield asked themselves, too – presumably without finding any satisfactory answers.
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Brandi Carlile releases her fifth album The Firewatcher’s Daughter this week, and after 11 original tracks, she closes with a cover of The Avett Brothers‘ “Murder in the City.” She first performed the track live last October on the day the Supreme Court temporarily blocked several states’ same-sex marriage bans. Carlile, who identifies as a lesbian and has a wife and young daughter, made several key lyric changes. Where the original’s final verse mentions sisters and mothers, Carlile sings: Continue reading »

The Avett Brothers are never ones to shy away from a cover or two. So it makes perfect sense that they’re contributing to the much-anticipated (and cumbersomely named) Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International. The collection of 75 (75!) Bob Dylan covers on four discs will be released tomorrow, so the Avetts stopped by Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last week to promote the collection with their contribution, a cover of “One Too Many Mornings.” Continue reading »

Two weeks ago we looked at the Avett Brothers’ best covers. At the same time, guitarist Seth Avett was busy covering Elliott Smith live in Oakland. He did so before back in May with “Angeles,” but this time he teamed up with the tour’s opening act, Jessica Lea Mayfield, to turn Smith’s “Twilight” from a basement whisper into a countrified, though still melancholy, duet. Continue reading »

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. Continue reading »

Few bands can match the energy of The Avett Brothers. Relentless touring, releasing almost an album a year for the last 10 years, their work ethic seems more akin to the artists of yesteryear than to today’s one-album-every-three-years darlings. Fitting, then, that they should dig into the past in their recent appearance on CMT Unplugged. Continue reading »

By now most of us are familiar with indie folk darlings, The Avett Brothers. Their crossover status into mainstream music over the last few years has made them accessible to the masses. But mention the name David Childers to anyone outside of the bluegrass and folk world and you’ll likely get a shrugged response, despite Childers being considered one of the great American songwriters by his peers. Continue reading »

In the past few years, The Avett Brothers have become major stars in the world of folk music and beyond, selling out tours, performing for huge crowds at festivals and even appearing alongside (today’s birthday boy) Bob Dylan at this year’s Grammy’s. This level of success still hasn’t affected their humility or love for music though, as guitarist Seth Avett proves by setting up in front of his webcam, just like any other YouTube performer, to play a cover of a favorite song: Elliott Smith’s “Angeles.” Continue reading »

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