The Avett Brothers "The Carpenter"

The Avett Brothers examine serious issues of life and death while balancing the line between roots and rock music.

In the early days of their career The Avett Brothers made music that sounded like it erupted spontaneously from their guitars, banjo, and stand-up bass. Their songs veered wildly from the rapid fire tempo of punk rock to the raggedy licks of hillbilly hoedowns. As they progressed the music became more introspective, even sentimental, and the melodies became more refined. In 2009 they teamed up with producer Rick Rubin to record I and Love and You, an album that Scott Avett refers to as a “kind of the freshman attempt at chapter two of our existence as a band.” The release was warmly reviewed and marked the band’s first appearance on the Billboard charts.

The Carpenter finds The Avett Brothers taking the next step in their evolution. The band again works with Rubin but this time out they supplant him as directors of the project, thanks to the wise tutelage and encouragement of the producer. Scott and Seth Avett and bassist Bob Crawford show a new level of confidence in their songwriting, playing, and arrangements, but also exercise their primal musical instincts. The sound is tidier than their early recordings, there are few ragged edges, and arrangements offer more complexity with a variety of instrumentation. Organ, piano, trumpet, glockenspiel, and a string section expand their sonic landscape, but every so often that banjo, so synonymous with their music, jumps to the forefront of a happy jam.

The Avett Brothers have always offered emotionally charged lyrics but these songs reach deeper into the heart and psyche. The album’s title track is the axis around which all other songs revolve. In their simple yet profound way, The Avetts pull you into the world of a man who takes his responsibilities seriously, and expresses great passion for his family. These are the kind of men that women pray to find and other men endeavor to be, not perfect, but always striving for better. Banjo accompanies the fervent affirmations of “Live and Die.” It’s one of the best uses of the banjo on the release. The trio occasionally returns to the attitude of their early days. “Paul Newman vs the Demons” is a raucous affair with distorted guitar and multi-layered harmonies but this is far from roots music. “I Never Knew You” offers a new spin on the break-up song as the protagonist reflects on the irony of faded love with a new found wisdom.

One of the most charming things about the Avett Brothers is their ability to convey the sweetest sentiments without getting maudlin. They walk that fine line on “Winter In My Heart” a sad ballad about the inability to love. Nearly half the songs on The Carpenter deal with mortality. Band members have experienced recent loss and struggle, particularly Bob Crawford who’s 2 year old daughter is battling brain cancer. Seth Avett’s powerfully evocative “Through My Prayers” delivers a contemplative view on dealing with loss when one has to do that alone. Despite the heavy subject matter The Avett Brothers remain positive. It’s their nature to handle adversity as just another part of the balancing act we call life and their music has always reflected that. As Scott Avett stated “This record is a much purer approach to that, which will be joyful and more painful in some ways.”

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)