Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield - Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield

Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith (2015)


Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith: it’s all right there in the title. This project, over three years in the making, finds the Avett Brothers frontman and the eternally gloomy singer-songwriter teaming up to pay their respects to one of the greats. Mayfield and Avett can’t seem to decide if they want to craft an extremely reverent and faithful tribute to one of their idols or put their own stamp on the material, which means things can be a bit hit or miss, but they're mostly hits.

The reverence works in a lot of places. Mayfield’s voice sounds absolutely beautiful over “Angel in the Snow”, and adding a bunch of bells and whistles to the song’s original sparse instrumentation could have only served as a distraction. Avett does a great rendition of “Pitseleh” that tweaks the melody just slightly enough to make itself more immediately catchy than the original, but just as heartbreaking. However, the pair’s renditions of “Between the Bars” and “Ballad of Big Nothing” really bring nothing new to the table and don’t invite many repeat listens.

The times when Avett and Mayfield attempt to make the material their own are some of the most interesting tracks on the album. They takes turns singing lead on most of the tracks here, but when they sing together, as they do on their slowed full-band version of “Somebody That I Used To Know” it gives the song a flavor that was never even hinted at. Mayfield’s version of “Roman Candle” that comes toward the end of the record is the biggest departure, transforming into a full blown grunge number that wouldn’t feel out of place on her last solo full-length, Make My Head Sing.

Obviously these tracks are nowhere near as essential as the originals, but it’s two great voices singing a handful of timeless tracks, and fans of any of the artists involved would most likely enjoy at least a few tracks from Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith. Plus, as far as co-ed duos covering the classics go, it’s a hell of a lot cooler than Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong doing Everly Brothers tunes.