As it is with a lot of music junkies, it is very hard for me to pick just one album that I call my favorite. As a self-proclaimed “hip-hop head,” I had various hip-hop albums run through my head while brainstorming for this column: Watch The Throne, the magnum opus of Jay-Z and Kanye West, or any of their solo albums, particularly The College Dropout by Mr. West and The Blueprint by Jay-Z. But what it came down to was the “Recently Played” playlist in my iTunes library. While the 25-song playlist consists of its fair share of hip-hop songs, all 16 tracks from Live, Vol. 3 by The Avett Brothers had a home there. I am a firm believer in the idea that, should there be a choice between studio-recorded and live versions of a song, the live version will be the better track nine times out of ten. While emotion and passion are often expressed very well in the studio version of a song, the vast majority of artists really let themselves loose during their live performances. Live, Vol. 3 is a fantastic example of this.
The Avett Brothers, a folk rock group from North Carolina, have risen to prominence in about the last five years or so. Fronted by brothers Seth and Scott Avett, the band incorporates, in my opinion at least, the best parts of country music (diverse instruments, profound subject matter) without any of the annoying parts (sounding the same as every other country song). That said, this feeling is felt throughout the band’s discography, from their bluegrass-esque early work to their more recent folk-rock tracks. So really, I could have picked any of their albums and written about that. But Live, Vol. 3, recorded in 2009 in their hometown of Charlotte, incorporates the band’s best works while expressing a range of emotions that could never be found in a studio-recorded album.
There is nothing quite like a band performing in their hometown. Throughout the album, the band pauses to thank their fans for propelling them to the heights of popularity, even saying, “You’ve taken us all over, all over, and all over, and it will never be repaid … although we’ll try.” The depth of this emotion is heard when Seth Avett begins to play the fan favorite, “The Ballad of Love and Hate.” Avett, prefaced by a lengthy bout of applause, launches into the first verse, and promptly forgets the words to his own song. He tells the audience, “I’m so happy right now I can barely stand it,” collects himself, and starts over again. There aren’t many times that you can experience an artist becoming overwhelmed like that. In addition to all of this, another great aspect of the album is the varied subject material of the songs.Let’s take Jack Johnson, for example. While he is one of my favorite artists, it is easy to detract from him based on the lack of diversity in his songs. More or less, he says in many different ways that he loves his wife. Don’t get me wrong; again, J.J. is one of my favorite artists.
But listening to Live, Vol. 3, it’s almost impossible to hear the same message twice. For example, let’s look at tracks eight to ten: “When I Drink,” “Murder in the City” and “I Killed Sally’s Lover.” Within the span of these three songs, the audience hears things like heartfelt remorse (“When I drink, I say things I don’t want to say / I do things I don’t want to do, I talk mean to you”), a song meant to comfort the brothers’ family (I’ll talk about “Murder in the City” in depth in a little bit), and a song about being so in love (or bat-shit crazy, depending on your point of view) that you kill your ex’s new mate. Again, there are very few places (even amongst live albums) in today’s music that you are going to find diversity like that contianed within these three songs. And even when the song is a love song, the brothers talk about aspects of love that you probably haven’t even thought about yet.
But more so than any of the previous reasons that I have mentioned, I can relate to this album in a very big way. Particularly, to the song “Murder in the City.” Throughout its verses, Scott Avett touches upon subjects that just about anyone can relate to. In the second verse, Avett asks his father which brother he likes more, and then lists some of the faults of the two. He then sings, “A tear fell from my father’s eye, I wondered what my dad would say / He said, ‘I love you, and I’m proud of you both in so many different ways.’” In the last verse, Avett describes what he wants done in the event of his early death. He tells his family to forget about his belongings and such, but instead, “Make sure my daughter knows I love her, make sure her mother knows the same / Always remember there is nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name.” As someone who has recently experienced the loss of a very caring grandmother, that last line has helped me to realize that there are some things that are a whole hell of a lot more important than any frustrations I may or may not be experiencing here at school.
Hopefully, after my rant, you’ll decide to go and experience for yourself my favorite album. If not, that’s fine too. Just know that you’re missing out on something good.