The Avett Brothers move forward with catchy melodies, new sound
Album Review | 3.5 out of 5 stars
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 01:09
Marking a career high for the Avett Brothers with a Billboard debut at No. 4, “The Carpenter” serves as a watershed moment for a group that has recently experienced a rapid increase in success and as a representation of a band in transition.
Reuniting with superstar producer Rick Rubin for their second album together, the Avett Brothers branch out into other musical genres in “The Carpenter” while remaining firmly rooted in the hallmark bluegrass sound of their North Carolina origins. These sounds combine in the form of catchy hooks and heartfelt lyrics to deliver an album full of beautifully crafted songs dealing with darker subject matters like mortality and regret.
“The Carpenter” begins with opening track “The Once and Future Carpenter,” which evokes many of the themes and elements heard throughout the rest of the album. A gentle acoustic guitar melody opens the song before gaining momentum through the addition of drums and a cello in the background. This musical base provides the perfect background for the harmonies of brothers Scott and Seth Avett. The song’s narrator is a former carpenter moving between cities in a search for purpose in his life. The album’s theme of mortality quickly becomes apparent through the lyrics: “If I live the life I’m given/ I won’t be scared to die.” Overall, this is an extremely polished song and a perfect example of how the Avett Brothers deftly combine themes of hope and fear.
The opener is followed by “Live and Die,” which begins with banjo plucking reminiscent of the band’s earlier works. The upbeat track has an instantly memorable melody delivered through its combination of banjo and violin. It is representative of the multiple catchy hooks the Avett Brothers employ throughout the album. “Live and Die” also displays the genuine nature of “The Carpenter.” Lines like, “You and I we’re the same/ Live and die we’re the same” are sung with heartfelt emotion and, consequently, feel extremely relatable.
Many of the other upbeat tracks on “The Carpenter” show the band branching out from traditional bluegrass territory into other genres. “Pretty Girl From Michigan,” the latest in a series of “Pretty Girl From...” songs that have appeared on multiple Avett Brothers albums, begins with sparse piano notes before launching into a booming electric guitar riff far removed from the banjo plucking of earlier songs.
“I Never Knew You” is another piano-driven rocker that sees the band stretching out from its roots, combining a driving piano line with the brothers’ vocal harmonies to create an extremely catchy melody for one of the most upbeat songs on the album.
Even with all the upbeat tracks on “The Carpenter,” the shadow of mortality looms large on many tracks and influences many of their lyrics. In “Down With the Shine,” a horn section adds a slight melancholic air to the proceedings as the narrator exclaims, “It’s a real bad time to bring up the truth/ Though we searched we found no fountain of youth” and “There’s nothing good, because nothing lasts/ And all that comes, it comes here to pass.” This morality culminates hopefully in the album closer, “Life,” where a stunning string melody accompanies the chorus: “Wouldn’t it be fine to stand/ Behind the words we say/ In the best of times.” The falsetto harmonies layered over top of the strings give “Life” an ethereal feeling. It is a fantastic conclusion to the album.
On “The Carpenter,” the Avett Brothers masterfully pervade melancholia with a streak of optimism. By integrating catchy melodies with traditional bluegrass and exercising heartfelt sincerity, the band pays homage to its roots while pushing the envelope of its genre.