Tag Archives: The Avett Brothers

Interview – Bob Crawford of The Avett Brothers

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Just in time for the 55th Annual Grammy Awards, I caught up with Bob Crawford, bassist for The Avett Brothers, to talk about their new album “The Carpenter”, their first Grammy nomination, songwriting, and learning to play the fiddle, among other things:

EOAF: Congratulations on the success of “The Carpenter”.  How would you describe the album?

Crawford: Mature, thoughtful, intentional, poignant, pensive.  I think it’s heavy, and I think that’s where…I’ve had friends that I have had since I was 19, I’m 40 now.  I’ve had them say “I don’t know about this one.  It’s not your best.”  I think maybe we lose some people as we go, but maybe we gain people in some ways.  Maybe people come and go.  It’s not 2007 anymore, and it’s not 2005.  It’s a different time for us and I think you are being honest about where you are in life and that being reflected in your art and what you do and the way you do it.  It’s definitely going to change.

EOAF: How do you feel about how songs from “The Carpenter” have translated live?

Crawford: Oh they are great!  I think they have really translated.  You know what they have done?  Some of them,  like “A Father’s First Spring” and “February 7”, some of these song help us slow down on stage and try to meditate on being intense and calm at the same time.  It’s been a lot of fun.  It’s really fun to translate something like that live.  We’ve had slow songs in the past–God knows we have tons of them.  There’s a controlled, an intentional controlled aspect that comes musically, like a hang-there-in-space-and-time and have that patience.  I’ve always thought Neil Young did that so well with songs like “Harvest Moon”–how he could have a very intense mid-tempo.  That’s tricky for a musician.  It’s very hard.  The inclination is to play faster, because your heart is beating faster because you are on a stage and there are people.

EOAF: Is there any song from The Carpenter that you really love to play live?

Crawford: “Live and Die” is getting really comfortable.  It’s starting to feel like an old trusty.  We are getting better, with the last two albums, at holding songs back before the release.  We were never good at that before.  We’ve gotten better at that.  When you record the song, but you don’t really know them, you know your part and you know the section that you did a million times, but you don’t know it like when you are on stage and let it fall out of you.  When you record the record, there’s about a year before you really start playing the songs intently and constantly, and then they take on a life of their own.  So, they are coming.  Some of them are still in the coming phase, but some of them have been very surprising to play, like “Life” has been fun to play and “Paul Newman [vs. the Demons]” has been fun to play.  That can be really fun to play.

EOAF: You played “Life” for the first time live at The Christmas Jam in Asheville.  That was exciting to see you guys added last minute to the line-up.  How was that experience for you?

Crawford: It was fun!  Scott [Avett] and I used to live in Asheville, and I remember a time when the Christmas Jam came around.  For a couple of years we were asked to participate, but we do our New Year’s show in Asheville.  So it was finally good that this year we could be a part of it. It was really great, because we hadn’t played together in about a month and a half.  I mean we had practiced, but we hadn’t done a show.  It was fun because I was actually really nervous, but we did great.  I was like, “This is great I am nervous!  This is awesome.”

EOAF: That is a great feeling, and it was also a very different crowd.  The majority of the people there were sort of that jam-band crowd.

Crawford: Yeah!  It was nice to get that support.  I could also tell from the stage that [the audience was] really there to see String Cheese [Incident].  That made if fun.  It was nice to be in a room that we’ve sold out, and played two nights there before, and for it to be a new room—for the lighting to be different and for there to be no backdrop behind us.

EOAF: “The Carpenter” was nominated for the Best Americana Album award for this year’s Grammy’s.  Congratulations!  Where were you when you found out? 

Crawford: Thank you so much.  I was at home in bed.  I started getting texts saying “Congratulations” and this and that.

EOAF: How does the Grammy nomination play into your or The Avett Brothers’ definition of success?

Crawford: I think it’s always nice to be patted on the back, or nice to have someone tell you good job.  Let’s face it.  It’s great to get a compliment.  I mean, it’s always nice, but I don’t think it’s why we do it, and it’s not even necessary for us to continue doing it—to get those kind of accolades.  We’re going to keep doing what we do probably until it doesn’t seem useful anymore, until there’s no need to write songs, until we feel like we’ve plateaued, or we feel like we have nothing to say, or until people stop coming to see us live.  But I think the first thing, besides a tragedy, that would hasten us not doing it would be if we had nothing to say.  We always told ourselves earlier that we would stop doing it if it seemed like we plateaued—if it seemed like it wasn’t going anywhere any longer, you know.  I don’t know that we are there yet.  I think we hope to do it forever. Maybe there are years to take off, or we can take a break, but I hope it can still exist in the same light.

EOAF: It is great that you guys have been getting recognized more for what you are doing.  In that notoriety you have been asked to play with some pretty big names over the past two years—Bob Dylan, you’ve played for Tom T. Hall, and you did the Crossroads sessions with Randy Travis.  Is there anything from those specific experiences that really stands out to you? 

Crawford: Well they are all really touching and exciting.  Obviously the Bob Dylan thing is surreal.  It’s even surreal now because it doesn’t even feel like it really happened.  You know? It’s one of those things.  “Did that really happen?”  It was really exciting to work with Randy Travis.  He was great, I mean really awesome.  He was great to be around and a really nice guy.  I think we really blended well together.  I think it’s a nice match and definitely a connection there.  They are all really great, but we have to keep in mind that to share the stage with somebody or to collaborate isn’t the main thing.  To be able to do these things is great, and we should be thankful for them, enjoy them and savor the moment, but it’s not the main thing.  Take it as it comes, but we have that thing that we do and that needs to come first and foremost.

EOAF: Did you grown up in NJ?

Crawford: I did, I grew up in South Jersey.

EOAF: So is it safe to assume that you didn’t grow up listening to people like Doc Watson and Tom T. Hall?

Crawford: Yes, I started listening to Doc Watson in 1992.  A friend of mine drove me down to MerelFest.  Actually, the first time I saw Doc was at the Cowtown Bluegrass Festival with that same friend who told me about MerleFest.  Then I saw Doc I saw at The Bottom Line in New York City before I moved down here.  I remember the first time I saw him my friend was like, “That’s a legend.  You got to see a legend”.  I didn’t even know who he was at the time.  I was fortunate enough to see him many, many times after that.  We opened up for him one time and of course we played MerleFest all those years, and the last time I saw him was when we played the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco.  He was out there and he was playing with David Holt, and we watched him from the side of the stage.  I’ll never forget it.  It was a very sad day when he passed–very, very sad day.

EOAF: You have recently added the mandolin and fiddle to your contributions to the band.  How did that come about?

It came about because Scott and Seth [Avett] are very open to and very supportive of things that I try to do.  The fiddle has been the most recent, and I seem to be getting some traction with it.  Beginning to play something at the age of 40, you know, I wish I’d been playing all of these instruments when I was 15 or 16 years old, but that wasn’t the case.  But the fiddle has been a real mental savior the past couple of years for me, and I feel myself growing in it in a lot of ways.  Scott and I–before my daughter got sick–we started playing old-time music like Tommy Jarrell and Skillet Lickers, Charlie Poole, and Uncle Dave Macon–just old-time music and we would just kind of go do our thing.  Doc Watson when he was very young with Clarence Ashley, that’s a really good album if people can find that—really, really good.  Doc was very, very young.  It’s awesome.  Anyway, we’d just be backstage and play these old-time tunes and try to learn them.  They were just claw hammer banjo and fiddle tunes.  It just kind of grew out of that.  We still do it.  When my daughter got sick, he’d come visit me at the hospital, and we would play.  It’s kind of our thing.  Hopefully someday…well maybe even not…maybe it doesn’t have to be something that we do for people.  Maybe it’s actually something that we can do for us, but it’s been a lot of fun.

EOAF: The cool thing about when you get in the spotlight on stage, is that everyone just goes crazy.  I think it stems from the fact that the spotlight is always on Scott and Seth so much, but the fact is that you are the third brother.  When you sing your songs or do your upright bass spin [the crowd goes wild].  By the way how many revolutions can you get on that thing when you spin it around?

Crawford: (Laughs) Well like I always say, any monkey can spin a bass, and someday I am going to teach one to do it just to prove my point.  But I love this job I have and the guys I travel with and play with. I’ve been blessed in so many ways, and I am so thankful for that.  I just want to enjoy my remaining years, as many as they may be, just playing music and loving music and learning songs.  I have just been fortunate with life.

EOAFr: Have you done any songwriting recently for yourself or your side projects?

Crawford: Not since my daughter got sick.  David Childers and I did another Overmountain Man record, which will be out January 22 (“The Next Best Thing”, Ramseur Records).  It was recorded before Hallie (Crawford’s daughter) got sick, and I’ve got several songs that are on that [album].  The fiddle was kind of that thing that I did when things got out of the critical phase and I had time to tinker, you know like 45 minutes a day, or a half hour a day in the hospital.  I just kind of tinkered on the fiddle and tried to get to know that more.  I feel myself closer to writing now.  I write down little things here and there.  I think at some point, there was a time after Hallie got sick, I thought, “I’m living it, I don’t have to write about it,” you know?  Life is so intense I don’t have too much time for that.  I think the big thing that we’ve been though–my family and people who have been through far different and far worse things—in some ways sometimes I think there are far worse things that you can go through as horrible as what we have gone through.  You kind of get the feeling, and not in a bad way, that no one can really understand what you are going through or what you feel, like your friends and family members.  You kind of just feel like, man, you kind of feel frustrated and angry.  You don’t want anyone to go through what you are going through.  You certainly wouldn’t even want your worst enemy to go through what you are going through, so you feel like no one really understands what you are going through.  The idea of writing about it—if someone can’t truly understand or empathize, for good reason–what would be the point?  Other than journaling, which I have done intentionally, how would it come out and what would you say?  I think it’s just a matter of getting my head to the right place to write about it.  I think I am going to write at some point, I just don’t know what or when.

EOAF: In terms of your daughter, the entire Avett Nation community has been hopefully uplifting for you and your family.  Since then—and probably before then–a lot of the fans have gotten together around Avett Brother shows, and organized community events or fundraisers.  How does that make you feel, and what part do you think you guys play in that?

Crawford: I don’t know what part we play in it.  We do what we can, and we do as much as we can.  I know we all have charities that we support and try to do all we can for.  I am really glad people do it.  Any kind of service, I’m glad people do it.  I’d like to dedicate my life more to service.  Any time you can serve someone else, it’s probably the greatest thing you can do as a human being.  When I think about God and practicing your faith, I think that service to others is probably number one to what we can all do as human beings.  I don’t think I’ve served anyone as well as I think that my wife and I and our family has been served during our time.  We’ve been served amazingly by so many, so many friends and family members, and of course the Avett family and the Avett community has served us as well. I think that is something that I always keep my mind present to—ways to serve.  I just think service is one of the most important things that we can all be doing.  Look at the world and the country and people’s attitudes, people being divided along political lines—I think if people just focused on serving each other and serving someone other than themselves, a lot of these compromises we need would be evident.

EOAF: You guys used to play at Peasants here in Greenville, right?

Crawford: Yes, we did.

EOAF: Did you know they are reopening?

Crawford: No, but I am glad to hear that.

EOAF: There is a push to get music back in Eastern NC, so if you all are ever back in this neck of the woods, even if any of your side projects want to come through here, I know the town would be very happy to have you. 

Crawford: Thank you!

EOAF: By all accounts you were pretty instrumental in pushing the [Avetts] out of their comfort zones and having them go on tour in the beginning.  There are obviously tons of young singer/songwriters and bands in the Eastern NC area trying to make it, for example, Nick and The Babes is just one of them.  What would be your advice to a young band or singer/songwriter out of this area who really wants to get noticed?

You mentioned Nick.  He and I are friends and have worked together a little bit.  I definitely think that people should take notice to them.  I think that the advice is to get out of the area.  Spend as much time as possible on the road and just travel around and around and around and around and just try to share what you do with the country.  There really is no easy way.  I can only say this because this is what we did, and this is what works for us.  There are probably other ways to do it but I don’t know those ways.  I haven’t experienced that.  I know there is a ton of talent out there, and I wish this was a time in my life when I could go out and see more of it.  I know there are a lot of really great musicians and there is plenty to be taking notice of.   I hope they will have the presence of mind to reach outside of their comfort zone and listen to some other music.

The original interview appeared in Mixer Magazine.  I would like to thank Bob Crawford for his time. To learn more about The Avett Brothers and their music, please visit www.theavettbrothers.com.

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Jim Avett @ In Your Ear Recording Studio – Richmond, VA

Storytelling and Songs

Storytelling and Songs

To launch their 2013 concert series, JAMinc.–a local non-profit organization that promotes music appreciation through education, performance, and support–brought in singer/songwriter/master storyteller Jim Avett from Concord, NC to perform for a sold-out crowd at In Your Ear Recording Studio in Richmond, VA this past Friday night.

As a part of his collaboration with JAMinc., Jim spent time before his evening performance visiting two Richmond schools–Maggie Walker Govenor’s School and Douglas Freeman High School. This push to get talented musicians into Richmond area schools is part of the core mission at JAMinc. Over the past decade, they have successfully reached over 47,000 K-12 students in the Richmond area.

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

During his time with the students, Jim shared his stories and songs, and offered them encouragement rooted in reality. He “encouraged them to be the best they can be,” not only in music, but also in life. This “just do your best” theme is pervasive in any music from the Avett family, indicating a firm belief that each of us has a purpose in life, and doing our best is always enough to make an impact.

Later that evening, music lovers gathered in the listening room at In Your Ear Recording Studio for Jim’s show. Many of those present had never seen Jim perform live, but were eager and excited to hear the music of the Avett family patriarch. Little did they know, they were not only about to hear a gifted singer/songwriter, but also one of the best storytellers this side of the Mason-Dixon line.

Unlike the crowd, I have had the pleasure of seeing Jim Avett perform several times. While no two shows are alike, I have heard most of his stories a time or two. Though he is always quick to apologize for his redundancy, it is in his redundancy that lessons are reinforced and new connections to music are created. Therefore, it’s not surprising to still find myself completely engaged and entertained when he dives into one of his old trusty tales about getting his first guitar, the art of picking, or his admiration for great songwriters like Tom T. Hall. Somehow Jim’s stories never wear thin. They never get old. Perhaps it’s his lighthearted country charm and down-home humility, or the simple wisdom and appreciation for what is true that keeps listeners like myself coming back for another helping of Jim Avett.

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

Flanked by lead guitarist Ray Morton and fiddlers Ali and Justine Parker, Jim took the stage in his trademark cowboy hat and black leather vest, and did what he does best–took listeners on a musical journey through his life. During the first half of the show, Jim wove childhood stories in with the songs that have shaped him into the musician he is today. His set list was thoughtful–deliberately complimenting tales about growing up in the foothills of NC, learning his first guitar chord progressions, and stealing history lessons from Johnny Horton songs. He delighted the captivated audience with classics like, All I Have to do is Dream, Wreck of the Old ’97, Sink the Bismarck, Keep on the Sunny Side, (Old Dogs, Children and) Watermelon Wine, and Hey Good Lookin’.

After a short intermission, Jim, Ray and Ali returned to the stage to play original tunes from Jim’s most recent albums “Tribes” and “Second Chance”–and you better believe that the stories continued as well. As Jim explained the details behind each songs, it was evident that he not only writes from personal experiences, but also through a keen observation of others, which he displayed in songs like Willard and Decisions. Through his tough facade, hardened by a lifetime of honest and dirty work, a sweet and candid family man emerged as he spoke fondly of his his wife Susie and their three children. With ease, he admitted his propensity for writing love songs, before transitioning into some of his favorites including Leaving Knoxville, Through the Passing Years, Tribes, and Saying Goodbye. Jim also treated the audience to a new song called, World Goes Round and Round–a heartfelt story of a grandaddy walking along a wooded path with his granddaughter and offering up a lifetime of advice.

With his first performance in Richmond, VA on the books, Jim proved, once again, that he is a master of lyrical imagery. With his stories and songs, he painted a picture of a simpler, fonder time that many of us long for, as we forge ahead into the tech-savvy, hustle-bustle world in which we live.

In a city so defined by its history, Jim Avett has gifted Richmond with his own little piece of the past–a kind reminder that sometimes we must look back through the history of music to allow ourselves to evolve and move forward in our own story and song.

Take a listen to a short interview with Jim just before his set at In Your Ear Recording Studio:

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Avetts and Cheerwine pair up for The Legendary Giveback

Over the last decade, The Avett Brothers have gained attention for their seamless harmonies, heart-wrenching lyrics and frenetic banjo-driven live shows. From humble beginnings busking on street corners in downtown Greenville to sharing the stage with folk legend Bob Dylan at the Grammy Awards, brothers Scott and Seth Avett and bassist Bob Crawford have certainly come a long way on their journey to the top.

Despite the bright lights of success, The Avett Brothers have remained dedicated to giving back to their community. Their most recent charitable venture involved partnering with Cheerwine for the “Legendary Giveback Concert” last month at nTelos Wireless Pavilion in Charlottesville, Va. The concert benefited Operation Homefront, Big Brothers Big Sisters and University of Virginia Children’s Hospital. Additionally, fans who pledged to volunteer in their communities received access to an online live stream of the concert.

The evening in Charlottesville was met with much excitement from fans across the Southeast. Concertgoers began lining up for the sold-out general-admission show as early as 8 a.m. for an 8 p.m. show.

When The Avett Brothers finally took the stage, the packed amphitheater erupted. The Avetts and Crawford were joined on stage by touring band members, cellist Joe Kwon, drummer Jacob Edwards and Paul Defiglia on the keys. They opened with a high-energy version of “Slight Figure of Speech,” and it was clear that these Concord boys came to blow the roof off of the venue.

They delighted the audience with a handful of old favorites, like “Salvation Song,” “Old Joe Clark” and “Gimmeakiss,” as well as new songs from their most recent album, “The Carpenter,” like “Live and Die,” “I Never Knew You” and a crowd-hushing, stripped-down version of “Through My Prayers.”

The entire set was elevated by playful brotherly antics, Seth’s face-melting electric guitar solos and Scott’s kick-drum acrobatics and stage sprints. The evening closed with an old-timey cover of “Alabama Gals,” but could be summed up best by the lyrics of “Salvation Song”: “And they may pay us off in fame but that is not why we came and if it compromises truth then we will go.”

The group’s air of goodwill has become the norm among their most loyal fans, who have organized fundraisers as far west as Portland, Ore. The Avett Brothers have proven themselves to not only be extremely talented musicians, but also a band of brothers working toward the greater good.

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Music that Matters – Raleigh’s Racing The Cure Benefit

Brotherly Love

There are certain lengths that a friend will go to help another friend in need.  For Grayson Currin, this meant organizing and seamlessly executing the Racing the Cure Benefit for Oliver Gant, a one-night four-venue music event that raised over $45,000 to help a brave young boy fight the battle of his life (Read: Oliver Gant’s story).

Last Friday night in downtown Raleigh, over 1,700 music fans were treated to the sounds of North Carolina’s finest musicians–including The Avett Brothers, The Love Language, Bombadil, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, Jack the Radio, Annuals, and The Old Ceremony–all in the name of charity.

The venues, ranging in capacity from ~250 to 800, provided music lovers with a more intimate environment in which to experience their favorite bands.  This was especially true for fans of The Avett Brothers, who currently sellout venues that hold several thousand.  The chance to see The Avett Brothers in a venue that holds 250 people drove some of their more diehard fans to start lining up at King’s Baracade as early as 9 o’clock Friday morning.  By the afternoon, the line of fans camped out in chairs neared the block’s corner.  Curious pedestrians inquired about the line and quickly learned about Oliver’s event.  I can imagine that soon thereafter, a feverish round of desperate texts and tweets were fired off by said curious pedestrians to track down the last few tickets floating around Raleigh.  This was an event not to be missed!

I was lucky, or crazy according to some, to have scored the first spot in line at King’s that morning.  Some people questioned my judgement, my employment status, and my priorities, but I didn’t care.  We should be using vacation days to support events that are rooted in everything good in our world–friendship, music, philanthropy, and community.  These are the things that matter in life.  The experience of connecting with other fans in line, meeting those closely connected to the cause, and standing center stage in front of Scott and Seth Avett while listening to their beautiful music, was well worth the time and energy I spent.  I’d surely do it again in a heartbeat.

Seth Avett

The brothers Avett, stripped down with only a guitar, banjo and microphones, took the stage around midnight.  The crowd erupted with applause and excitement as those homegrown, humble boys from Concord opened with their heart-wrenching family ballad, Murder in the City.   Family is an omnipresent theme at all Avett shows, and it was evermore present that night as Scott and Seth played and sang from their hearts to honor their friend Jed Gant (Oliver’s dad) and his family.  For these Avett boys, family extends far beyond one’s genetic code.  It is a pervasive term that leeches its way into the all of the lives they affect with their music, art, and generosity.

Scott Avett

What was supposed to be a 25-minute set, thankfully stretched into a 50-minute set with gems like When I Drink, January Wedding, Denouncing November Blue, In the Curve, Go to Sleep, I Killed Sally’s Lover, and At the Beach.  Scott and Seth gave every bit of energy they had and looked like they were having a blast doing it as well.  Half-way through the set, after thanking Jed for inviting them to be a part of such an important event, Seth said, “We’re gonna play one of the songs we always used to play back when we first met Jed many years ago.  This one’s called Cigarettes and Whiskey.”  The crowd went crazy as the brothers added their own Cabarrus County charm to this old country classic.  They quickly downshifted into a beautiful version of Doc Watson’s Look up Look Down that Lonesome Road.  Minus a few token cat calls, the audience had hushed to hear that Avett harmony, all while near or distant memories of love lost stirred deep within.  This is why The Avett Brothers have fans lined up at 9am for a midnight show.  Their music digs up raw human emotions that make us feel reborn and alive.  They make us remember what we’ve been through and look ahead to better days.

They ended their set with a song that has become a staple in their shows as of late–gospel hymn A Closer Walk with Thee.  What a fitting way to end a show of this magnitude–with grace, hope and faith.  To Grayson Currin and everyone else involved in making the Racing the Cure Benefit for Oliver Gant a success, thank you for promoting music that really matters and for supporting a cause bigger than all of us.  To the Gant family, our prayers are with you always.  Keep fighting Oliver!

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Leaping into 2012…an extra day of music!

Rockin' my new Little Martin in 2012!

Happy (belated) 2012!  This year is slated to be jam-packed with shows (and reviews!) across the music spectrum.  So far, I have several shows under my belt and on the books,  including:  Jim Avett, Overmountain Men, Mipso Trio, The Darkness, The Avett Brothers (NC and CA dates), The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Merle Haggard, Paleface & Mo, and more!  I am excited to share these experiences with you all.

Another wonderful thing about the year 2012 is that it is a Leap Year, and the calendar gods have granted us an extra day to do with what we wish.  What will you do with your extra day?  I know that my extra day will be filled with as much music as I can cram into it.  Music is a part of my daily routine — in the car, at the gym, at work, in the kitchen while I cook, at late night jam sessions, and even in my dreams.  I don’t even attempt to imagine a world without music — just seems unlivable!

So let us appreciate an entire extra 24 hours of  music in our lives this year.   Cheers to a fabulous 2012!

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My Favorite Gifts – Christmas Album

I often measure music by its ability to transport me to another place, whether it be traveling back through my memories or somewhere I’ve never been.  By this measure, among others, the music on My Favorite Gifts – Christmas Album is some of the best I’ve heard in a long while.

Upon first listen I was transported from neighborhood streets once alive with song and spirit to the lonely muddy banks of the Mississippi, from an upbeat Mexican celebration to the birthplace of Jesus, and from a smokey Irish pub in New York City to the bedroom of a little boy too eager to sleep on Christmas Eve.  Lyrically, each song touches on different elements of the season, including introspective reflection on the past, jovial celebration of holiday traditions, hopefulness, goodwill to man, the blessings of Jesus Christ, and even the role of organized religion in the commercialization of Christmas.

Released last month, My Favorite Gifts brings together the musical talents and creativity of Overmountain Men, The Avett Brothers, The David Wax Museum, Jim Avett, siblings David and Jessica Lea Mayfield, Paleface, Nick and the Babes, Mark Crozer, and The Wood Brothers.  This compilation leaves behind the overdone holiday standards and treats our ears to unique interpretations of those not-so-well-known songs, in addition to a few original pieces.

The idea for this album was born from a conversation between Bob Crawford (The Avett Brothers) and Dolph Ramseur (Ramseur Records) on December 26, 2009.  Crawford, who shared his thoughts via email, recalled the conversation.

“I knew at some point we (The Avett Brothers) would be asked to be involved in a Christmas album.  I wanted us to do it ourselves and with our friends first.  Dolph immediately said that it needed to be a project for charity.  At the time, our good friend and Avett tour manager Dane Honeycutt’s mother Vickie was fighting breast cancer.  Sadly, a few months later Vickie passed away and we knew then that we were going to direct the charity towards some cancer fighting organization,” he wrote.

Musicians quickly signed on to the charitable project.  Crawford and Ramseur, who produced the album together, encouraged artists to choose songs that were special and intimate to them.  This approach fostered the creation of a purely eclectic and original collection of Christmas music.

When I first listened to the album in its entirety I was immediately taken by how different the songs were stylistically.  Instantly, I could hear the care that was taken to choose songs that expressed each artist’s or group’s feelings about Christmas.  I wondered how the artists came to choose or write their songs.  To my delight and appreciation, most of the contributing musicians shared thoughts about the creative process with me via email.

David Childers on his song Rambling Door to Door:   “The subject of Rambling Door To Door is the group of boys I used to get together with on Christmas Eve to go caroling.  We were not the most well behaved, but we all loved it.  The character singing in the song is looking back almost 50 years to his youth.  He sees what was then, and he sees what is now.  The now is not as nice a place, but he can still sing to himself if no one else wants it.  There’s a joy in singing, but even more so in singing those songs that are of a short season or time.”

David Mayfield on On Christmas Eve: “It was a real treat and an honor being invited to be a part of My Favorite Gifts.  I’ve always wanted to do something for the holidays, but was sure I couldn’t do a standard any better than Bing [Crosby], so I was floored when Bob Crawford suggested John Hartford’s On Christmas Eve.  I’ve always loved that song and never would have thought of recording it.”

David Wax on La Rama: “The David Wax Museum delves into American and Mexican folk traditions.  We thought it would be a great addition to the Christmas record to take an unknown Christmas song from Mexico and arrange a bi-lingual version of it.  There’s a centuries-old custom of musicians carrying a Christmas branch (“La Rama”) between houses and playing this particular song in exchange for food and tips.”

Nick Bailey on Christmas Time is Here“Bob approached me and said he would like to produce a track for Nick and the Babes on the album.  The arrangement of the song is actually for a bunch of little kids singing.  It’s really high-pitched, so we had to do a different arrangement, but I still wanted it to sound like the song and be recognizable.  I picked the song because it has always been one of my favorites.  It is more of a sad and lonely, reflective song.  I think that when people get older, Christmas takes on a different meaning.  Sometimes it becomes more reflective…thinking less about presents and more about family.”

Jim Avett on writing The Brightest Star:  “I wrote The Brightest Star because I thought everybody else was going to write an original!  I had not preconceived anything…it just sort of came out.  I have a lot of gospel in my background so naturally the song reflects my feelings that all gospel, including Christmas carols, should be theologically correct, which I think this one is.”

Paleface on Fairytale of New York “Bob Crawford called me when we were recording our album One Big Party and asked if I wanted to be a part of a Christmas compilation that he was putting together.  I said of course and in my mind flashed on the Pogues song, Fairytale of New York.  It’s always been one of the best and most under-appreciated Christmas songs I’ve ever heard.  He asked me to think about what song I might want to do and we hung up.  When we spoke for the second time about what song I remember [Crawford] saying, ‘Dolph and I thought it would be great if you did Fairytale,’ without me having mentioned it to him yet so that was all I needed.  We had Stuart from Bombadil join us and had a fun afternoon recording it.  I remember saying that everybody should just relax and have fun cause ‘this song is so good its hard to mess up’.”

Mark Crozer on writing Next Christmas“The song itself has quite a long history.  I came up with the melody for it when I was briefly living in New York just after Christmas 2008. Then it sat around for a year before I was sitting down one day thinking I’d really like to write a Christmas song.  It’s been a crazy fantasy since I was a kid to have a festive hit in the charts that gets brought out year after year and becomes part of the Christmas tradition.  In the UK, where I’m originally from, the Christmas single is quite a big dealSo, as I was sitting there I suddenly remembered the tune I’d written a year earlier and the words just came out in one go the way they do on occasion.  I wanted to write something that reflected the hope for better times ahead that I think everyone feels at this time of yearIt is a very hopeful song, but laced with a little of the irony that we Brits love so much.”

Crawford on I Thank God and more:  “Seth [Avett] heard it from a Sam Cooke recording. We had already kicked around the idea of other, more traditional songs.  I Thank God is very unique while maintaining one of the key themes of the Christmas season which is thankfulness for the blessings of God.  I am also honored to work with the Overmountain Men.  David Childers is one of the greatest song writers of our time. I think he and Jim Avett could write an album of Christmas songs that would redefine the genre.”

The creative process of writing or adapting, and recording holiday favorites for My Favorite Gifts was augmented by the fact that the album would contribute to a cause much larger than those involved.  Many of the artists tied to this project were close friends to Vickie Honeycutt and remain close to her family.  So it seemed only fitting when Crawford and Ramseur decided that all album profits would be donated directly to the Vickie Honeycutt Foundation.

The Vickie Honeycutt Foundation, which was formed shortly after her passing, honors “a woman who served as a beacon of compassion for so many.”  Honeycutt, a graduate of UNC-Greensboro, taught at Mt. Pleasant High School in her native Cabarrus County for 32 years, and was known for her caring nature and dedication to help others succeed.  According to the website, the foundation’s goal is to provide assistance to “teachers and educators battling cancer so that their sole focus can be on recovery.”  With charity at the forefront, several artists openly expressed what it meant to work on such a special project.

Mo, drummer for Paleface, responded, “It’s pretty awesome to get to be on the same album with so many greats, and it’s a true honor to get to celebrate with them the memory and life of a dear friend’s mom who was so sweet and caring to all.”

Suz Slezak of The David Wax Museum echoed Mo’s sentiments.

“It’s always special to have the opportunity to support causes we care about with our music. We were also touched to be included in such a stellar line-up of bands, many of whom we listen to on a regular basis,” she wrote.

Mark Crozer, who is likely a new name for fans of this grouping of artists, was also very moved by the direction and purpose of the album.

“When I learned that it was to be a charity album for such a good cause  I was even keener to be involved.  Teaching has been in my family for generations and I have dabbled myself.  I’ve also lost friends and family to cancer so I wanted to do something to help raise funds for projects that support people living with cancer.  I think the Vickie S. Honeycutt Foundation is a truly wonderful organization, and I’m so thrilled to be part of this project.  It’s also a thrill for me to be in such distinguished company as The Avett Brothers, Jessica Lea Mayfield, The Wood Brothers and David [Childers] of course.  It’s a great album and pretty diverse which makes it even more interesting,” Crozer wrote.

As a “lifelong friend” of Vickie’s, Jim Avett was “honored to be a part of anything to do with her and her family” as well as “to be included in a compilation CD with such talented creative people.”

Collectively, My Favorite Gifts is a wonderful work of art that will please the senses, revive the true spirit of Christmas, and benefit those in need well into the future.  It is a Christmas album with far more substance than Santa, making it easy to enjoy all year-long.  It is a must-have so please visit your local record store or amazon.com/iTunes to purchase My Favorite Gifts for yourself and your loved ones.

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