The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You
Record Label: American Recordings
Release Date: September 29, 2009
Despite not having read any reviews for I and Love and You, I feel fairly confident in the angle most will take. Let's bypass this altogether and talk about how much better this album is than Emotionalism, or even, gasp, Mignonette. At the back of many diehard Avett Brothers fans' minds is a simple question: “How awesome are these songs going to be live?” Sure, I And… continues the band’s lovingly energetic folk opera, but this is hardly music made for headphones. True joy is only felt when Seth and Scott Avett, Bob Crawford (upright bass!) and Joe Kwon (cello!) take to the stage for one of their mythically sweaty sets. The sloppy intermingling of vocals on “It Goes On and On”, the parlor piano of “Kick Drum Heart,” and even the tricky banjo picking of ballad “Ten Thousand Words” will all play wonderfully to an audience of mythically sweaty fans. Owning this record is simply not enough.
Keep trying, but I’m not mentioning that which you’re thinking. There’s too much band goodness worth dissecting, like the self-titled opener. It starts sluggishly, as if the band is wrestling us from a deep sleep. Scott and Seth harmonize in arrestingly beautiful fashion with the lines, “Brooklyn, Brooklyn / Take me in.” A string accompaniment opposes the rising vocals and optimistic piano. Very few acoustic bands handle the build-up as emotionally as The Avett Brothers, and if this is your first experience – whether with the band or just to the album – you won’t be disappointed. The arrangement’s simplicity makes each note all the more important, which also means we’re rapt in a way that’s been rarely duplicated in 2009. “The Perfect Space” continues this barebones mentality by hanging its hat on a simple piano and soothing harmonies. Or wait, they just screamed at me? Did the song change? Nope, thankfully not: “Part 2” of the track erupts into a porch hoedown bursting with energy. Exhausted again, the Avett’s sing: “I want to have pride / Like my mother has / And not like the kind in the Bible that turns you bad / I want to have friends / That I can trust / That love me for the man I’ve become / Not the man that I was.” By all accounts, from the tempo changes to the key tweaks, “The Perfect Space” was made to be complicated. But don’t think for a second that it feels that way.
Let’s see; what else could we discuss? “Laundry Room” features one of the group’s catchiest choruses. “Head of Doubt, Road Full of Promise” might be a radio rock ballad if any of its instruments used electricity. “There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light / In the fine print they tell me what’s wrong and what’s right / And it comes in black and it comes in white / And I’m frightened by those who don’t see it,” opens “Head of Doubt” before some finely placed drum kicks awake us to the overarching melody. And we need that awakening because the lyrics are so dead-on: “Your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected / If you’re loved by someone you’re never rejected / Decide what to be and go be it.” Lines like these are littered throughout the mostly uplifting I and Love and You, and it only takes halfhearted digging to find their shining wisdoms. There’s no song about a “Pretty Girl from Colorado Springs”, but the band has moved on in the most positive of ways. Organs, horns, virtuoso strings and the most memorable melodies of their career mean The Avett Brothers can ditch that overwrought format for good.
Allow me my possibly (but not really!) regrettable statement for the year: This is the best folk album of 2009.
Oh, and Rick Rubin produced it!
Recommended If You Like: The Felice Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, heck, Sammy Walker, drat