Friday, October 2, 2009

The Avett Brothers- I and Love and You

Breaking down one of the most over and mis-used phrases in the English language and turning it into a distillation of its parts and examining it from all angles is an appropriate exercise for this great American band. The Avett Brothers have, over the course of about a half-dozen albums, built a reputation for breaking down the basics of popular music-songwriting, performing and recording and making them all unpredictable and potentially explosive parts of their particular alchemy. As songwriters they have become more and more adept at writing sly, tender assessments of the modern condition that cause you to scratch your heads in acknowledgement and marvel at their poetic phrasing. Their recordings have been maddeningly inconsistent traditionally, but with I and Love and You they have found their production muse in the mysterious Rick Rubin, who, as he has done for many other artists, seems to have found the perfect formula for The Avett Brothers. It is obvious to outsiders, he keeps his eye on the songwriting and vocals and otherwise keeps it simple. He doesn’t let them get weird or too low-fi, but facilitates their best-produced group of songs presented in basic gem-like roots-rock settings. In many ways it hearkens back to what was great about The Band on their first couple of albums-Robbie Robertson wrote great songs that were presented in deceptively simple arrangements. It was the craft of songwriting, not the art of album making - a fine but important distinction. As producers and studio engineers become better and better at making anyone “sound” good, it is an increasing trick to allow great musicians to just sound as good as they are. Seeing the Avett’s live is very much like watching a kid play with matches near a gas pump - it is a giddy excitement as you wait for the explosion, and when it does come it is as thrilling to watch the orange ball of flame as it is disconcerting to feel the heat on your face. That is the way it is with most great live bands - you are as excited by their music as you are scared by their intensity. Finally, the Avetts have translated this phenomenon to album.

Paul Epstein

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