Album Review: Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield – Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith

ES_Cover_loWhat can be said about Elliott Smith that most people have not said already?  You either loved him or did not care for him.

Smith left his legacy suddenly years back in the worst way possible and his music has remained for the world to sulk upon when in need.

In 2003, Smith ended his life after suffering from depression for years.  I have no words for his choice on how he bowed out to the world nor will I even go into detail.

The 90s punk me was introduced to Smith’s self-titled album by some of my indie-loving friends years before “Needle In The Hay” was heard in The Royal Tenenbaums.  I’ll be honest and tell you that I never appreciated him until after his passing.  I remember liking what I heard, but apparently was too much in love with the SoCal punk scene.

The twenty-something-year-old-me back then was not impacted as much as present day me would have been.  I hate to admit it, but at the time I was not deprived of Smith’s talent when I learned of his passing.  Twelve years later, I have a different way of looking at his loss.

Next week, Seth Avett of The Avett Brothers and Kent, Ohio’s sweetheart Jessica Lea Mayfield will be dropping Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith, a covers album full of, you guessed it, Elliott Smith songs.

The album, dropping on Ramseur Records, is not a reinvention of Smith’s work, but more of an appreciation for someone they both were fans of.

Produced by Avett and recorded over the last three years at Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, NC as well as at Avett’s and Mayfield’s homes, the album features renditions of twelve Elliott Smith songs.

It was almost haunting to hear Mayfield start out “Between The Bars”.  This version sent chills throughout my body.  I loved how Avett joined Mayfield but did not dominate the song.

I really enjoyed the piano playing that built up throughout “Baby Britain” and feel Avett nailed it when trying to recreate.  It started off slower with acoustic playing but soon jumped into a more upbeat cover.  It kills me thaSeth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smitht this was a more popular song of Smith’s and was all about his addiction, but it really is a great song.  (Side note:  I enjoyed this cover way more than Bayside’s 2008 version)

“Ballad Of Big Nothing” was just as depressing as the original on Smith’s Either/Or.  Not that i was expecting anything different, but the impact that Mayfield’s voice with Avett provided a different dismal angle.

I would have loved to have heard Avett take lead on their version of “Roman Candle”.  The distorted guitars were awesome but I really wanted to hear a more close to the original version of the signing to this amazing track.  I was rather underwhelmed on this.

The original version of “Memory Lane” always reminded me of something the Beatles might have done.  Hearing Avett slow it down a bit with a stings section made me think of the Beatles even more.  This was a great version of the original.

The collaboration of Avett and Mayfield only made sense seeing how they have been pals for years now.   For them to cover Elliott Smith songs was nothing next to brilliant.  The best part is how they chose what material to cover and how they each took turns taking the lead.  They reached all over Smith’s catalog including some hits and more obscure tracks.

This is the part where I encourage those who never cared for Smith to take a listen and hear his brilliance in a different dynamic.  Love him or hate him, Smith was an incredible songwriter.  This covers album proved that so well.

The album drops on March 17th and you can preorder it now by heading over to The Avett Brothers merch site.

If you’re lucky, you can even catch them live throughout March:
March
10   McGlohon Theatre, Charlotte, NC
11   The Birchmere, Alexandria, VA
12   Town Hall Theatre, New York, NY
14   Keswick Theatre, Glenside, PA (Philadelphia)
17   James K. Polk Theatre/TPAC, Nashville, TN
18   Southern Theatre, Columbus, OH
20   Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago, IL
22   Fitzgerald Theatre, St. Paul, MN
24   Boulder Theatre, Boulder, CO
26   Neptune Theatre, Seattle, WA
27   Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR
29   Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA
31   Wilshire Ebell Theatre, Los Angeles, CA

Side note:  This powerful scene with Richie in The Royal Tenenbaums is beyond horrifying even more so when you think about what happened just a couple years later…  I am glad Avett and Mayfield did not cover this track.

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