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The Avett Brothers

Drawing a line through country-folkers The STANLEY BROTHERS, TOWNES VAN ZANDT and WILCO, ye good ol’ boys from Concord, North Carolina, flew into Mainstream Central via several post-millennium, bluegrass-tinged indie sets for Ramseur Records. That aside, it’s been the siblings’ meteoric rise to fame and fortune since inking a deal in 2008 with Rick Rubin’s American Recordings that has taken most pundits by surprise. Seth and Scott Avett (and not forgetting their trusty sidekick Bob Crawford), reprise Americana like there’s er… no tomorrow, and with top-selling sets from 2009’s “I And Love And You” to 2012’s “The Carpenter”, and from the same crop, “Magpie And The Dandelion” (2013), their future looks secure among their alt-country cousins. Tip your hat the MUMFORDS and The LUMINEERS.
It was a long way from Seth and Scott’s modest roots, in which the respective guitarist and banjoist plied their trade with Nemo (alongside guitarist John Twomey) in Greenville, NC haunts, that, in turn, led to Tuesday acoustic-only nights jams – aka The Back Door Project. Abandoning their “rawk” roots with the release of a self-titled EP in 2000, The AVETT BROS were underway on the likes of `Kind Of In Love’ and `My Lady And The Mountain’. Note too, that Timothy Seth Avett (as Darling) released three solo sets: “To Make The World Quiet” (2001), “Killing The Headlamps” (2002) and “The Mourning, The Silver, The Bell” (2005).
When Twomey and Nemo fell by the wayside, the Avetts collated enough songs for a mini-set, and with the quirky addition of stand-up bassist Bob Crawford in tow, COUNTRY WAS (2002) {*6} was single-handedly manufactured by all parties concerned; even recording engineer Pat Gauthier (who played electric bass on `Closing Night’) got in on the act. Transcribed to concert faves, almost all the tracks, including highlights `Pretty Girl From Matthews’, `Jenny And The Summer Day’, `Beside The Yellow Line’ and `November Blue’, fitted neatly between cover songs – `Will The Circle Be Unbroken’ and the likes – on their third release, LIVE at THE DOUBLE DOOR INN (2002) {*6}.
The AVETT BROTHERS’ inaugural release for Ramseur, A CAROLINA JUBILEE (2003) {*7}, was amiable and good-hearted enough in its simplistic blend of bluegrass and back-porch country. Taking the sceptical middle-ground from a romanticised point of view (by way of `Do You Love Him’, `I Killed Sally’s Lover’, `Me And God’ and `Love Like The Movies’), the redneck grunge-esque look of the trio was never gonna win them any honky-tonk awards down in Nashville, but that mattered not to a group clearly enjoying digging up some roots.
For historians who knew of the sunken yacht that sank in a storm off the south coast of Africa late in the 19th century, the name of MIGNONETTE (2004) {*7} served up some meaty subject matter, but rather than relying on the cannibalism of the poor cabin boy eaten by his convicted ship-mates, `The Day That Marvin Gaye Died’ and songs about “Pretty Girls”, suppressed any washed-up hunger pangs; but then again in the spirited instrumental `Complainte d’un Matelot Mourant’, one can almost hear the turning of ropes on a spit-roast. Surely not.
After LIVE, VOL.2 (2005) {*5} almost brought one up to date in the concert department, the extremely diversified FOUR THIEVES GONE: The Robbinsville Sessions (2006) {*7}, sounded almost celebratory and freewheeling by comparison. Roping in guest vocalist Lindsey Rome, the female touch enlightened songs such as `Talk On Indolence’, `Pretty Girl From Feltre’, etc., and clocking in at over 70 minutes (again!), The AVETT BROTHERS were value for money. The electric-icity and raw vibes of `Left On Laura, Left On Lisa’, `The Lowering (A Sad Day In Greenvilletown)’, `Sixteen In July’ and the 16-minute title track, these “Basement Tapes”-styled ventures clearly marked a turning point for the progressive-folk act; had they been listening to The BAND and/or The INCREDIBLE STRING BAND.
Introducing future full-time member Joe Kwon (cello) – singer/strummer Paleface made another guest appearance on `Go To Sleep’ – the appropriately-titled EMOTIONALISM (2007) {*8} found encouraging sales figures, bubbling under the Top 100. Turning heads, especially the aforementioned Rick Rubin (who’d had his fair share of emotion through the sadly-missed JOHNNY CASH a few years back), The AVETT BROTHERS drew out remorse and reflection on the magical `Hand-Me-Down Time’, `Die Die Die’, `The Ballad Of Love And Hate’ and `Shame’.
The trio/quartet’s inevitable breakthrough came in 2009 when I AND LOVE AND YOU {*8} took hillbilly, bluegrass/country-rock back into the mainstream – the Top 20. As always sharing vocal duties, Seth and Scott mined elements of narrative-styled rawk, and while there was no ‘Skynyrd-like guitar assaults, one could almost hear WILCO or The JAYHAWKS in tracks such as `January Wedding’, `The Perfect Space’ and `And It Spread’.
On the back of a Grammy performance alongside the likes of MUMFORD & SONS and BOB DYLAN, Rubin was once again instrumental at getting the best out of the Brothers and Co as album number six, THE CARPENTER (2012) {*8} strode up and into the Top 5. Taking their cue from the masters like JENNINGS, NELSON and HAGGARD, but with the pop-rock fantasy sensibilities of RON SEXSMITH fronting The BAND, nocturnal-time nostalgia carried weight on bitter-sweet dirges such as `Winter In My Heart’, `February Seven’ and `The Once And Future Carpenter’ to the fore.
From the same sessions, the rustic roots of MAGPIE AND THE DANDELION (2013) {*8} also graced the Top 5. Upbeat with a sense of tradition and intimacy that recalled The BAND in their “Big Pink” salad-days, The AVETT BROTHERS (and Bob, Joe and a drummer! Jakob Edwards; from live support Mike Marsh), left their best pieces for this delicate but delicious work of art. Almost every track a country-rock gem, Bob’s `Good To You’ (about a long-lost flame) was the tear-jerking highlight, while the soaring `Open Ended Life’, `Morning Song’, `Never Been Alive’, `Bring Your Love To Me’, `Another Is Waiting’ and `Apart From Me’, were quintessential Avetts at their romanticised best.
On the back of yet another in-concert document, LIVE, VOL. FOUR (2015) {*6} – exclusive of covers of `Auld Lang Syne’, THIN LIZZY’s `The Boys Are Back In Town’ and QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE’s `Happy Trails’ – summer 2016 seemed as good a time as any to peak at #3 with their ninth studio offering, TRUE SADNESS {*7}. Allowing producer Rick Rubin to sprinkle his magic dust on the likes of opening gospel-rock salvo `Ain’t No Man’ and follow-on piece `Mama I Don’t Believe’, too often the set’s simplistic, slow-burning, Southern-rock sheen camouflaged any immediate enterprise. Hardly an example of its appellation (`No Hard Feelings’, `Divorce Separation Blues’ and the fragile `I Wish I Was’ aside), the ‘Brothers’ back-porch bluegrass motif was resolutely upbeat, examples a la `Smithsonian’, `Victims Of Life’ and er… the title track.
© MC Strong/MCS Nov2013-Jul2016

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