On My Deathbed: Seth Avett’s Essential Albums

Seth Avett created his own Deathbed list for the November/December issue, which was guest edited by  The Avett Brothers. Check out Seth’s impressive list of the ten albums he’d take with him to the other side, and listen along on Spotify. Enter the current Deathbed Contest by December 15th to win a Martin OM-18 Authentic 1933 Guitar.

Videos by American Songwriter


10. Brother Ali, Shadows On The Sun

This record is one of the great bastions of positive, meaningful hip-hop. Full of all the swagger one would expect in the modern genre, but with the humility and perspective of a thinking family man, it bounces effortlessly from scathing metaphorical landscapes to real-life narratives. It is lyrical, poetic and gritty, intelligent and ruthless in its message. The name of the album says it all; evident in the title track, Ali is presenting the hope and promise he sees in humanity, with the belief that we can shine so brightly, we cast shadows on the sun.

Best track: “Forest Whitiker”

9. Clutch, Clutch

The world doesn’t know what to do with Clutch. Onstage, they rock too heavily for the jam-crowd, and jam too much for the stoner rockers. They play music in a genre that they inhabit alone. I don’t know the name for it, but it lives on a mountain, somewhere high above the surrounding valleys where their so-called peers make music that is so derivative, it cannot be distinguished from its influence. Their second LP takes us on some sort of intergalactic journey with scores of castaways, bounty hunters, and ‘modern day Pharisees’; where rock and roll is illegal and Dodge Darts and Ford Galaxie’s drag race through the heavens. With the gravel voice of Fallon, we rocket from from ejector seats, escape the prison planet, and discover the body of John Wilkes Booth. It is an insane album, unparalleled in its originality, focused beyond reason in its approach. Listened to in its entirety, this album takes you somewhere that no other album can possibly take you. That’s a promise.

Best track: “Spacegrass”

8. Jeremy Enigk, Return Of The Frog Queen

Enigk (whose voice gained its largest audience with one of the most under-celebrated bands of the last few decades – Sunny Day Real Estate) hit a moment of absolute clarity with his first solo record. An absolutely mystifying piece, Return Of The Frog Queen presents a sort of dreamlike landscape often with less instrumentation than one would think necessary for such ethereal textures. There are moments of confusion, moments of fury, moments of resolve. There is an overarching beauty and solitude that defines the short album, and it feels so honest, especially throughout the perfectly spaced parts where only an acoustic guitar accompanies his supremely unique voice.

Best track: “Explain”

7. Willie Nelson, Honeysuckle Rose: Music From The Original Soundtrack

To put it in perspective, Nelson wrote “On The Road Again” for this film. My brother and I discovered the greatness of this record (fittingly) while driving through the deserts of the great American west in a 1992 Ford Taurus station wagon (yes, via cassette tape). The year was 2001 and we were trying to be like the depression-era songsters we had become so interested in. There was no tour. There were no tour dates. We were sort of inventing venues as we drove across the country; street corners, out in front of gift shops, random sidewalks, etc. Somehow, this album came to represent some kind of freedom that was so electric and fleeting in us at the time. Aesthetically, it’s wild and spontaneous, outlaw country at its most potent and poetic.

Best track: A cover of Leon Russell’s “A Song For You”

6. Miles Davis All-Stars, Walkin’

It’s downright incredible that a record made in April of 1954 can sound so fresh and so relevant in a current setting. My personal connection to this album is that upon first discovering it, I went a few weeks straight, listening to it every morning. I still revisit it some mornings. I always start on the B side, right at the top of the day. Somehow it just makes so much sense. Crank it up in your kitchen while you make breakfast. A better day follows pretty much every time.

Best track: “Solar”

5. Doc Watson, The Essential Doc Watson

I’m from North Carolina; it’s in my blood. Not putting Doc in my “Top 10 On My Deathbed” list would be like changing my phone number and not telling my parents.

Best track: “Froggie Went A-Courtin”

4. Paul Simon, In Concert: Live Rhymin’

This record seems to highlight an interesting time relatively early in his solo career, and the songs feel fresh and lively, even at their most tender. There’s a spiritual vibe present with the Urubamba singers involved, and the feeling of discovery between textures that would later be famously explored with Ladysmith Black Mambazo on the Graceland LP. Live Rhymin’ is a great moment in a live setting of a classic American songwriting genius.

Best track: “American Tune”

3. Tom Waits, Alice

In my estimation, this is the height of unfiltered artistic comment. It is lovely. It is brutal. It is clever. It is unified. It is the perfect serving of regret and intoxicating love. Alice reveals Waits’s earlier albums as one-dimensional ventures by comparison; I believe Waits to be comparable, both in terms of development and command of his artistry, to Picasso. While the earlier work is strong beyond question, it cannot be categorized on the same level as later expressions by either master. This record does what the greatest records do: it transcends the man-made scenario of ‘releasing’ a record. It is closer in its delivery to a dark yet inviting room, wherein the listener is ultimately given an opportunity to have an unfettered conversation with his/her own heart.

Best track: “Fawn”

2. Sam Cooke, Portrait Of A Legend 1951-1964

You want to know what pop music was like before pop music was horrible? Here it is.

Best track: “A Change Is Gonna Come”

1. Louis Armstrong, Sings Back Through The Years/A Centennial Celebration

If I had to pick one record to own, this is it. One cannot put into words the influence or mastery of this man. Furthermore, it would be ridiculous attempt to estimate his value in the history of American and international culture, much less popular music. Suffice it to say there’s a great wealth of Louis Armstrong recordings, and it would be good for the soul of pretty much any human to listen to as much of it as possible. I listen to this collection a few times a week. It’s kinda like going to church for me.

Best track: all of them.


Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Daily Discovery: John David Kent, “Free to Drive”