Good As It’s Been To Me: The Genius of the Avett Brothers in Four Songs

The Avett Brothers’s music is a lot like a tidal river; always shifting, complex and different.  Like many people I started listening as they hit a national audience with the I and Love and You album, then the Avett Brothers Live, Vol. 3 album and concert video, and finally when I got to see them live, where I learned just how electrifying they are with a crowd.

I know what you’re saying, you’ve heard one or two of their hit songs, probably I and Love and You and Ain’t No Man, and maybe they’re okay but not your style.  Maybe you view banjo as a little too Americana for your tastes.  Well, if that’s the case then you’re missing out on some great music.  Like the songs themselves there are many layers to the Avett Brothers.  The songs are intricate creations built like melodic Penrose Stairs; uniquely complex but also highly listenable gems.  Scott and Seth – to me – are like Lennon-McCartney or John-Taupin in the way they feed off each other to build a memorable song.  Bold comparison?  Perhaps, but I believe their life’s work will stand up well against other legendary writing duos.  So here are four songs that illustrate the incredible range and complexity of the Avett Brothers:

The Once and Future Carpenter  The Avetts craft songs that take you on a journey, and this song exemplifies that.  The central message is living your life following your own true north, so you don’t regret it on your death bed.  Old souls these Avett Brothers.  This kind of deep thinking about our mortality is usually reserved for the end of an artist’s career, not the middle of it.

Forever I will move like the world that turns beneath me
And when I lose my direction I’ll look up to the sky
And when the black dress drags upon the ground
I’ll be ready to surrender, and remember
We’re all in this together
If I live the life I’m given, I won’t be scared to die

Pretty Girl from Chile  To really know the complexity of an Avett Brother’s song, look no further than this one.  The studio version is a roller coaster ride of deep climbs and plummets, hard turns and a racing heart.  A live performance adds a triple shot of espresso with a Red Bull chaser.  These are great musicians, and it takes a song like this to really hammer that point home.  From the moment Scott grabs your full attention with his piercing, evangelistic voice they’ve got you:

I’m no more than a friend girl
I can see that you need more
My boots are on my feet now
My bag is by the door

This song has everything – starting with Scott’s powerful lead vocal and rapid fire lyrics to quick instrument changes that weave us between bluegrass, flamenco and alternative rock in the same song.  Seth is the engine behind this song with incredible range in his guitar playing and harmonies with Scott woven throughout the song.

Laundry Room  There were big hits on the I and Love and You album.  The title track for sure, and Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise and Kick Drum Heart rightfully got a lot of airplay.  Great songs every one, but to me Laundry Room is the emotional core of this album.  The song that sneaks up on you, gives you a bear hug and won’t let go.

Stop your parents’ car
I just saw a shooting star
We can wish upon it
We won’t share the wish we made
But I can’t keep no secrets
I wish that you would always stay

Lovely song that stays with you when you’ve let it into your heart.  The live versions I’ve seen just completely grab the audience and take them for a ride.  And every listen does just that.

I am a breathing time machine.  I’ll take you all for a ride.

No Hard Feelings  A masterpiece of looking at our own mortality and the dynamics of love and loss.  This song may ultimately be the signature song for the band, like Stairway to Heaven is for Led Zeppelin.  Neither band is a one hit wonder by any stretch, but respectively these songs demonstrate a pinnacle of creative writing for each band.  The Avett Brothers may yet top No Hard Feelings, but it feels like a song with the staying power and genius of Stairway to Heaven.  Look, I know the band isn’t at that Led Zep megastar level yet, and perhaps they never will be, but the point is they’re brilliant musicians and this song will be a highlight of their career catalog.

When my body won’t hold me anymore 
And it finally lets me free 
Where will I go? 

Sure, there are a lot of great bands out there making great music.  This one is my favorite of the last decade.  I could have picked four different songs with the same emotional impact.  There’s just so much to this band to love.  The harmonies between the two brothers is exceptional, and there’s a tightness to the band molded out of years of touring.  I’m looking forward to seeing where they take us next.