Nightly Song
Musings on Songs that Strike a Chord Tonight

I Killed Sally’s Lover by the Avett Brothers

I Killed Sally’s Lover

The Avett Brothers From  Live, Vol. II You can hear a live version here, here and  here, .

You’re in a beer-soaked, sweaty North Carolina bar, three guys on the stage and wham: One-Two-Three-Four, guitars, banjo and upright base blast off like the amuck off-spring of speed metal and bluegrass, think Appalachian Ramones.

In one breath, we get the whole story: “Somebody get my shot got/Somebody get my blade/Sally’s been laying with another man/And he’s sleeping in my place.” No qualms, no equivocating, the singer relishes the moment, “Gonna shoot him sure as rain/You can run as fast you want to boy/I’ll kill you just the same.” They play with such reckless abandon, such joy. No moaning in a corner over betrayed love, no deep thoughts; it’s a song making lust tangible: “You can try to hide all you want boy/There ain’t nowhere to go.”

A contemporary song, “I killed Sally’s Lover” could’ve come out of the mountains a hundred years ago with its leering fun and giddy vengefulness. The performance makes it all work – the rush of the three instruments that feel like an onslaught of a much larger band, the hoots and shouts of the brothers, the glee the unleash.

Don’t think there’s no reflection here. You do get a confessional moment. “Don’t go thinkin’/That you got off so clean.” Here we get the confessional moment, “I’d kill you too if I had the nerve/But I just ain’t that mean.” What a hoot!

And our story picks up with the singer trying to hide, throwing his “murder tools” in the lake, stealing a car, driving far away. How does he get caught? “Sally told the policeman/Exactly what I’d done/I went and got my shotgun/I went and got my blade.”

Sure enough, they drag our hero off to prison and he addresses all the “ramblin’ fellas.” Ready for more confession? “That woman is gonna bring you pain/Your heart is gonna bleed/But it ain’t worth the trouble/The sufferin’ or the grief/A bleeding heart is better than the penitentiary.” For a few moments, you might thing you have the Hollywood or Christian ending: the bad guy gets his comeuppance, learns his lesson and joins the side of the good and the righteous. Not here, cause Sally’s got another lover and we know what that means:

Somebody get my shotgun
Somebody get my blade
Sally’s been laying with another man
And I set him in his grave

This maybe a mountain ditty from some crazed brothers come down from the hills, but it resonates with great art: not the idea of revenge, longing and lust, but actual revenge, longing and lust. It echoes the call in the blues mainstay “Look Over Yonder Wall,” when that singer calls out, “Hand me down my walking cane,” cause his lover’s husband is coming home and it’s time to flee. Here there’s no running or walking away, he’s out for blood.

This is the weird America sung by Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan and mooned over by Greil Marcus, the America where the ghosts of innocent men haunt the hillsides, devils wait at the crossroads to make a deal and you’ll find Stagger Lee, Delia , Frankie and Johnny waiting at your corner bar with love or murder or both on their minds.

You can find “I Killed Sally’s Lover” on Live, Vol. II, which captures the elusive spirit of the live performance. And this may not be the best song on the album. You won’t find a bad cut, but you might love Smoke in Our Lights,” “Wanted Man” and “Pretty Girl from Realigh.”

The Avett Brothers consists of two actual Avett’s – Scott and Seth – and bassist Johnny Crawford. They’ll sing you ballads, rockers, story songs, meditations, love songs and songs of such frenzy that no container can hold them. You can trace their influences back to the Louvin Brothers, Doc Watson, the Replacements, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Beastie Boys, the Ramones and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Think of the Band if they never left the basement at Big Pink. The Avett Brothers may be the best band playing in America today.

“I’d kill lyou too if I had the nerve, but I just ain’t that mean.”

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