The Avett Brothers: I And Love And You

AvettBrothers_IAndLoveAndYouRick Rubin captures country-rock brothers in their zone

The North Carolina-bred Avett Brothers, Scott and Seth, initially developed their rustic country-folk as a sideline to the rock band, Nemo. With the addition of bassist Bob Crawford, they embarked on a career as a trio with 2001’s Country Was. Subsequent albums and EPs have alternated between studio and live releases, with the albums gaining complexity and the EPs (particularly The Gleam II) providing a place for more sparsely arranged works. By 2007, with the release of Emotionalism, the trio had expanded greatly on their acoustic-folk roots, adding guests who laid drums, cello and electric guitars into the mix, and stretching themselves out to pop, rock, and blues.

What’s remained constant across all of the Avett’s records is the starkness and lack of artifice in their vocal performances. Working solo and in tandem they sing with the full-throated conviction of students pouring their hearts into a variety school performance. They strain to hit high notes and recede to delicate moments of lilt with absolutely no hint of self-consciousness. They emote in a speak-singing style that’s almost conversational. The vocal conviction fits particular well with the Avett’s new recordings as they transition from indie darlings to Rick Rubin-produced major label act.

The endorsement of Rubin and his American Recordings label hasn’t gone to the Avetts’ heads. Instead they’ve taken opportunity to question themselves, to parlay the slap on the back into an album full of songs about transition itself. They draw upon themes of physical relocation, emotional realignment, coupling and uncoupling, growing up and growing old. As Seth Avett writes in the tiny-typed liner notes, this is an album of dualities, “both a milestone and an arrival.” It’s an album filled with questions, and in its certitude of uncertainty, a big helping of self awareness. Its moods range through exhilaration, doubt, melancholy and depression; it’s both contemplative and expressive, underwritten by a dynamic musical palate of folk, pop, twang and even Violent Femmes-styled folk-punk.

Fans that worried the big city producer would recast the small-town singers as something they aren’t can rest easy. Rick Rubin has always staked his job as a producer as one of anticipating recording rather than hands-on knob twirling in the control room. His pre-production regimen focuses artists on preparing their material and themselves, leaving them free from decision making in the studio. The resulting performances are true to the music and its emotion rather than the studio and its artificial environment. Rubin captures musical acts in the zone, as he’s done here. The changes from their earlier albums are audible but unimposing – less banjo, more subtle use of strings and organ, and inventive touches of harmonium and tuba. It’s not the rustic acoustic sounds of their beginnings, but neither was Emotionalism.

Rather than pushing the Avett’s ten steps forward, Rubin has edged them into refining and consolidating their greatness to date. Their vocals are a shade more crisp and up-front, their songs a notch freer to explore wordiness, odd lyrical meters and chorus-less structures, and their musicality is opened to lush acoustic strumming, impassioned vocal wails, raggedy pop-punk and string-lined productions. As is Rubin’s way, however, none of this obscures the basic premise of the band’s music, as the brothers’ voices remain undressed, lyrically and sonically revealed to the world. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Stream “I and Love and You”
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