Stuart Ryan unveils the acoustic approach of singer-songwriters the Avett Brothers.
Continuing the long and fruitful tradition of American acoustic songwriting, the Avett Brothers’ Americana tinged sound echoes the styles of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and James Taylor among many others. Led by brothers Seth and Scott Avett on guitar and banjo respectively, the unit also includes double bassist Bob Crawford, cellist Joe Kwon, drummer Mike Marsh and keyboards player Paul Delfigia. The band’s rootsy, bluegrass influenced sound is capped off by polished harmonies and the interplay between the brothers’ banjo and guitar styles.
In High School the Avetts led various rock-oriented bands influenced by the likes of Soundgarden and Nirvana but they turned their attention to acoustic music and in 2002 released their first full-length album with Bob Crawford on bass. The turning point came when Seth was fortunate enough to be taken to see the legendary Doc Watson, a neighbour and acquaintance of the Avett family. It was this that made the Avetts realise the full power and scope of the acoustic guitar.
The band has since worked with überproducer Rick Rubin on follow-up albums, performed at the Grammys and released a live DVD. They broke into the mainstream with 2009’s Rubin produced I And Love And You and since then have become a fixture on the national touring scene in the USA. The band have unfairly been referred to as Mumford & Sons wannabees, a particular bugbear as the Avetts’ 2006 album Four Thieves Gone was actually a huge influence on the British nu-folk superstars.
The guitar in Avett Brothers’ music follows a traditional American way of providing accompaniment that finds its roots in bluegrass. Simple, open chord voicings (often capo’d up) are embellished with hammer-on and pull-off figures in the bass notes (on the sixth, fifth and fourth strings) that serve to give the rhythm parts extra interest and ‘bounce.’ It’s a style you’ll come across in all of the best bluegrass rhythm guitarists, and also mainstream acts that use acoustics, such as Neil Young.
You want to get to a point where you can see all the possibilities of these embellishments within an open chord shape so this study is designed to give you as many ideas as possible. It’s a great way of making a quite simple chord sequence sound more interesting and varied, while also being a good exercise for coordinating the picking and strumming hands when playing acoustic rhythm parts. You can play this fingerstyle or with a plectrum – I went with the pick as this was best to mimic Seth’s style.
The band has unfairly been referred to as Mumford & Sons wannabes, but the album Four Thieves Gone was a big influence on the Brit band.
Scott and Seth Avett blazing a US nu-folk trail