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Every so often an album that really makes you sit up and listen arrives; 'I and Love and You' may be the Avett Brothers' eleventh album, released in 2009, and may contain a far more polished production than that of its predecessors, courtesy of Rick Rubin (AC/DC, Tom Petty, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Sabbath, Adele amongst others) but this work of folk rock art has a sensitive beauty held within its simple lyrics and close vocal harmonies that is becoming scarce in modern popular music culture; this album, amongst others, is proof that with a little deep digging, there is still a lot of well constructed musical talent bouncing about, even if they are to remain extinct from the public acclaim.
Seth and Scott Avett are genuine brothers who were born in North Carolina and began playing music together during their childhood, including guitars and banjos which make plenty of appearances here. Their music covers a diverse range of influences including rock, folk, rock n' roll, pop, country, punk and bluegrass; overall I'd list them under folk rock if you were selling them to the masses since it has enjoyed a slight renaissance recently but most of those influences are found here.
The album kicks off with the title track, a five minute example of fine old-fashioned harmonising if ever there was one; I'd give this album five stars on this track alone. Acoustically kicking in with a piano and Scott's lone voice sensitively singing, 'Load the car and write the note, grab your bag and grab your coat, tell the ones that need to know, we are headed north.' So now we know not only the album is off, but so are the brothers, as they both state in the chorus, 'Oh Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in. Are you aware the shape I'm in? My hands they shake, my head it spins, ah Brookyln, Brooklyn, take me in'. So we know that they are heading towards the bright lights which ultimately leads to love... ah, yes. Love. They rarely venture into that small topic these days, do they?
The song's tempo steadily increasing with the inclusion of a violin, with that piano still ever present as both brothers give a much needed modern lesson in the skill of tight harmonies; the brothers compliment each other wonderfully, one often sitting an octave higher than the other, and the song just leaves you wanting more. As someone who has on more than one occasion nearly ran away to the city, I can safely say this brought home the fears and anticipation of getting away and the need to be accepted by a new life and place. A truly beautiful piece of music.
Things don't liven up on the second cut; in fact, they slow down a little. 'January Wedding' is another simple ballad featuring a prominent banjo and cleverly references Audrey Hepburn (that takes it up a notch in my world). As the title suggests, this is about getting married... in January. "No longer does it matter, what circumstances we were born in..." Seth sings. Seth did himself get married in January so the song is autobiographical. There's less of those hauntingly tight harmonies here as Seth's vocals are marginally alone throughout the track but both brothers sing beautifully solo. "I hope that I don't sound too insane when I say there is darkness all around us," he continues as the bass kicks in, yet somehow the song maintains its easy going beauty until the end; a lovely ballad. What you notice as well about these guys is they can really write a simple melody that maintains its staying power.
If the album has taken an all too subdued tempo thus far then you'll be pleased to know that by the third track, the piano-driven 'Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise', it is increasing somewhat as far as upbeat tempos go. In fact this is the first sign of the brothers turning their excellent vocals into spontaneous screaming matches. Once again we have returned to those gorgeous harmonies as well, during the refrains and the added percussion takes the pace up a notch from the previous two ballads.
The brothers continue to enhance their songs with their close harmonies that are reminiscent of the British Invasion yet intertwine their respective vocals, which both entail a prominent Southern twang; not that there is any steel guitar on this album, but you can feel the country influence in the vocals alone. They also prove, as well as gifted vocalists, to be very good lyricists as well. It's not often you get songwriters who can combine such simple melodies with excellent lyrics but they do this more often than not. Although the brothers' songs are often autobiographical, the lyrics are ambiguous enough to remain open to personal interpretation.
By the seventh track 'Kick Drum Heart' things really pick up just in case you listen and begin to think nothing on this album is going to rock out. This is an upbeat song which incorporates some wonderfully fast Billy Joel-style piano playing, following the catchy melody of the song's joyful stanzas. With the exception of a slow twenty second middle eight, the song is a constant burst of energy. It's arguably the first happy, danceable track on the album as the brothers breathlessly sing "My my heart like a kick drum!" Lyrically it lacks the depth of the previous tracks but it's new style which introduces some fun to the album. The song takes its own change of direction nearer the end, or the vocals do, as once again the brothers transform their singing to spontaneous screaming - both brothers have played in punk bands prior to the Avett Brothers so perhaps they've subtly kept that influence as part of their current armoury!
'Laundry Room' is a slow burner and a lovely folk tune that returns to ballad theme, deeper lyrics and tight brotherly harmonies and eventually transforms into almost an Irish folk jig at the end with some nice fiddle solo that would not sound out of place on some Fairport Convention LPs. This particular track features some nice acoustic guitar work but once again a simple, effective melody combined with ambiguously beautiful lyrics and marvellously sensitive vocals suck you in. These brothers really have a special magic together that is beautiful to listen to.
Most songs on the album are in the traditional radio friendly length with the exception of two that cross five minutes so there's little drawn out in the way of music progressiveness and although the album can be described roughly as a concept, there's nothing to stop the listener enjoying the individual songs on their own merit.
'Tin Man' is a wonderfully charmingly tune that sticks to the original formula of songwriting with its upbeat verses and catchy refrains, "I felt people move around me, I felt loneliness and shame, back then everyday was different, now each moment is the same," so goes a verse in a song which seems to contradict its upbeat, happy feel and describe growing older and settling down and losing that fearless, youthful excitement and spontaneity in life. Perhaps the tempo of the song is the description of the past excitement that the brothers refer to lyrically. The inclusion of a bouncy tuba that settles snuggly behind the vocals only serves to add to the song's lonely feeling of someone who isn't going places in life.
'Slight Figure of Speech' continues the upbeat theme as the album nears a close and proves once again that the Avett Brothers have a habit of surprising you by incorporating so many genres into their music; this little pop ditty manages to embrace both old fashioned backing '50s-'60s style vocal harmonies and a middle eight which is made up of a speed rap. The song is quick and quirky, from the singing to the rapping. It's incredible to think that this is the same album that began with two gorgeous ballads.
This marvellously structured album comes to an end with 'Incomplete and Insecure' which brings things down to earth with those fabulous harmonies and yet another slow, simple, effectual melody; this one is a short and sweet, led by Scott on vocals as he sings, "I haven't finished a thing since I started my life, don't feel much like starting now," repetitively. Again, that magic of when Seth joins in at a higher octave that combines the brothers' voices is really quite something.
Well they have finished one thing: their eleventh album as the Avett Brothers; and what a wonderful album it is.
The artwork is a startling one which I cannot fathom but it was painted by Seth Avett himself and is striking and original, if also a little strange and eery, but if ever you required more proof of these guy's talents, there it is!
Quite different from their previous efforts, this album is more rounded with the inclusion of a renowned producer and if you've been a fan of them prior to this release, then you may miss their old raw edged sound. This should be the album that sees the brothers gain commercial respect but that doesn't mean it is dumbed down or poor. On the contrary. It is brilliant and a really refreshing to discover that what the Everly Brothers began with brotherly harmonising and good old, simple melodies are still alive and well. Some may call the lyrics twee but I personally welcome that back - a little old fashioned emotion no different to what the Beatles or Bee Gees began writing about.
Ultimately though this is an album, as previously stated, that incorporates so many influences which is what, along with the brothers' musical talent, makes it a joy to listen to. All the songs are lovingly structured and carried by two brothers' terrific musical talents. They combine spontaneity and fun with meaningful, well written lyrics and vocal sensitivity and a concept of emotion, living and love from beginning to end.
~ Tracks ~
I and Love and You
Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise
And it Spread
The Perfect Space
Ten Thousand Words
Kick Drum Heart
Ill With Want
Slight Figure of Speech
It Goes On and On
Incomplete and Insecure
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 I And Love And You
2 January Wedding
3 Head Full Of Doubt/Road Full Of Promise
4 And It Spread
5 Perfect Space, The
6 Ten Thousand Words
7 Kick Drum Heart
8 Laundry Room
9 Ill With Want
10 Tin Man
11 Slight Figure Of Speech
12 It Goes On And On
13 Incomplete And Insecure