Mar 242015

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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Aug 012011

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 »

May 242011

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 »

Nov 152010

After listening to The Avett Brothers for several years and pining to see them live, I had the immense pleasure of seeing them twice this year—at Coachella and the Winnipeg Folk Festival. I’d heard that their live show was something to behold, but their high energy performance and the amped-up crowds that seemed to consist of legions of swooning girls blew me away. My only complaint: the shortened festival setlist didn’t allow them time for covers.

The folks over at Crackerfarm have helped to ease my pain by posting the brothers collectively and individually covering a number of different songs on their YouTube channel. In the latest post, Seth Avett sings Tim Hardin’s “London Town,” a song made famous by Donovan. The relaxed mood suggests that Seth just wandered out into the backyard, picked up his guitar and sang the tune in one take. The flawless performance, however, says otherwise. Check it out below. Continue reading »