North Carolina outfit’s seventh LP seduces the listener from its first track.
Colin Irwin 2012-11-13
This North Carolina band enjoyed an unexpected breakthrough after the man with the Midas touch, Rick Rubin, came on board to produce their 2009 album I and Love and You, culminating in a celebrated performance at the 2011 Grammy Awards.
The Avett Brothers took their time honing its successor, and it shows in the beautifully crafted songs in this flowing, unusually integrated record; it feels like an natural whole, rather than a collection of tracks conceived in isolation.
Rubin is again at the helm, and you imagine it’s his restraining hand that prevents their neat ballad constructions and sparing arrangements from spilling over either into anodyne country smoothness or self-consciously jagged rock.
Even when they plough in heavy with electric guitar, feedback and a fierce beat on the sinister sounding Paul Newman vs. The Demons, they retain a pleasing Buddy Holly jingle jangle. While the relentlessly jaunty banjo-driven sing-along Live and Die has such an unaffected freshness, it adroitly avoids the studied frenzy that sometimes makes their transatlantic spiritual cousins Mumford & Sons hard to love.
Full of vulnerability and understated melancholia, the band cleverly creates an illusion of simplicity that highlights the yearning lead vocals and powerful harmonies of Seth and Scott Avett. And this album’s essential character remains unshaken, even when Seth plunges strident electric guitar into Pretty Girl From Michigan.
The vigorous percussion of Lenny Castro and Benmont Tench’s assorted keyboards add further weight and variety, but there’s nothing overbearing or intrusive about any of it, even as a seemingly basic country song February Seven subtly grows into a minor epic and a welter of brass builds atmospherically behind the absurdly infectious Down With the Shine.
A telling undercurrent of sorrow underpins an album that works on several levels – not least in the involving lyrics (“The homophobic gentlemen built barricades / But their efforts couldn’t stop me” – Geraldine) amid stories of loss, wanderlust and mortality.
But ultimately it’s The Avett Brothers’ innate ability to deliver killer tunes and present them in an engaging fashion that connects them to a vintage pedigree of classic American artists, from Crosby, Stills & Nash and Neil Young onwards, that seduces you from track one.