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Music Review: The Avett Brothers – I And Love And You

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Written by Fantasma el Rey

Country, folk, bluegrass, a hint of punk describes The Avett Brothers pretty well; American roots music is a better overall description for the music put forth by the two multi-talented brothers from North Carolina. I And Love And You is their sixth full-length album since their debut in 2001 and their first major label release. Put out by American/Columbia and produced by big fan Rick Rubin (his favorite new band says Rolling Stone), the new CD is a collection of 13 songs about life, love, and dealing with it all as you transition “from youth to adulthood” and starts “hoping to build something.” The Avett Brothers, Scott and Seth, speak volumes in their lyrics while keeping their music simple and enjoyable.

From the start, I And Love And You grabs hold and brings you into the world of the brothers (who play most of the instruments) filled with piano, vocals from the heart (which they switch off on), basic drums kits, cello (Joe Kwon), stand-up bass (Bob Crawford), percussion, and some banjo for more kick. Most heavy-hitting are the lyrics, kept simple yet arranged in a way that gives them snap and sting with the reality of life. The Avett Brothers paint pictures with words, using both gentle and fierce strokes and flushing them out with music arrangements that range from whisper to shout.

For the first time the brothers let the chore of song order go to someone else. Rubin chose them well as they move flawlessly from track to track. He understands the brothers and arranges their songs to further paint and expand the pictures of love and life they present.

The title tune deals with the difficulty of uttering those three words. It begins with the easy arrangement of them, then the breaking them up gives them different meaning .Add in lyrics like “what you were then I am today” and “the highway sets the travels stage/ all exits look the same” and the story of a road trip to Brooklyn unravels to tell the tale of how those words became so difficult to say.

On “January Wedding” the music perks up a bit and we get more country/bluegrass picking of guitars, banjo, and stand-up bass reminiscent of The Stanley Bros. The song pretty much conveys, what is in away, the height of those three words, expressed with lyrics that hit the heart: “She keeps it simple/ and I’m thankful for her kind of loving” and “she’s talking to me with her/ voice down so low I barely hear her/ but I know what she’s saying/ I understand because my heart and hers are the same.” The lyrics continue to describe the right reasons why people should get married. As the song goes on we hear how the couple is surrounded by darkness. The narrator doesn’t feel weak but sometime needs her “to protect me/ and reconnect me/ to the beauty/ that I’m missing.” Call me insane but is that not what a mate and partner-in-crime should do for you? Pick you up when you’re down, and provide the true feeling that everything will be all right and the sun will shine again?

“Head Full Of Doubt Road Full Of Promise” explores that feeling of transition, moving forward head full of doubts but looking to shake all that clear, build on it and move on. While “And It Spread” is a heavy little ditty about how love or the cold lack thereof can spread into the heart and affect your mind.

“The Perfect Space” with its heavy piano deals with finding that space in life where one can fit and feel comfortable with friends. The ones you can trust and who understand and love you for who you’ve become and not who you were. The tune has a wonderful tempo change in the middle that kicks things into high gear and shows that these boys can really rock, shout, and cut lose when they want to before returning to the slow and steady.

“Kick Drum Heart” furthers this up-tempo rocking, shouting side of the brothers. Drenched and dripping with ‘80s pop flair, with happy piano, kick-drum skipping playfully, and joyful lyrics of walking in the woods. This time the tempo change in the middle is reversed for a bit before bounding back and ending with the steady heart beat of the kick drum.

“Tin Man” is a fast-paced tune with a Beatlesque tuba about missing the feeling of feeling. “You can’t be like me/ but be happy that you can’t” and “I see pain but I don’t feel it” reflects the times when you’re so down, out, and left behind that all seems to go numb even when the person you love best is right next to you. “And so it goes/ a man grows cold/ some would say a man grows strong” along with “and if you won’t give my heart back/ I’ve no need to stick around” perfectly sums up the mood and sets the stage to end the album with three more solid songs.

“Slight Figure Of Speech” is the most rocking number on the album and has the band in a playful mood that shines in the rapid-fire, lyrical roller-coaster delivery in the middle of the tune. “It Goes On And On” continues the bouncy, playful pace and short, quick vocal punch. Closing with “Incomplete And Insecure,” which slows a bit and brings the album full circle, the perfect bookend to “I And Love And You.” The song leaves the album feeling like its title, not to say the album is incomplete, just the journey we were taken on through the eyes of the Avett Bros’ I And Love And You is an incomplete journey. Our narrator’s journey through life is incomplete like all ours lives if you don’t live and love and feel life in all its joy, pain, and glory.

I And Love And You is a solid effort and a good look at love through the eyes of two young men making the transition into their thirties, looking to build a future from the tools they acquired in their twenties. Incomplete and insecure can describe how many feel towards those three little words, but those three little words when whispered from the heart can contain the world in them. The Avett Brothers get that (the mission statement on the CD is further proof that they do) and through their music it can help us explore ourselves and the impact of “I And Love And You.”

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  • I am reviewing this show in Boston this month, I am very happy to read your review. It came across exactly how I was thinking, but was unsure I could put into words- As the brothers I believe have set those words already perfectly. Thank you for this. 🙂

  • zingzing

    i’ve loved this band since they were playing free shows at a little place in charlotte called the wine vault. i picked up “country was” (their first ep, i think) from a friend, and then took a bunch of people, including a guy who was later my best friend, his girlfriend (whom i later… yeah, well…), and another couple out to said free show. everyone bought their newest album, which was called “carolina jubilee” and we did a bunch of blow and had an awesome night. i’ve seen them about 15 times since then, but only twice in the past 5 years, as i’ve moved from charlotte to seattle to new york. they put on such an amazing live show and i have so many great memories associated with them.

    i can’t wait to hear this one. i hope it’s the one that will put them over the top. i was really into charlotte’s local music scene while i lived there, and we always wondered if any of them would ever break nationally. as soon as i saw the avetts live, i knew it would be them. and i’m about to be right. i like being right, so that’s really cool.

    ordering this up right now. but fuck em for leaving ramseur (their local label) for a major. fuck em. but best of luck.

  • Nick

    I disagree with most of these reviews. I felt the Avett Bros were trying to be the Beatles but lack the artistic craftsmanship. It left the album stale, slow, and dull. I’ve listened to the album twice and I can’t recall a tune. The songs form one big gray sound blob, all of them lacking originality.

  • FLC

    Not a bad review. Although you forgot to mention Ill With Want. Which in my opinion is the best track on the album.

  • chissy n.

    this new album is awesome. i just got it and i can’t stop listening to it. the avett brothers are awesome and i can’t wait to see them live!
    countdown to i and love and you.

  • countryst

    There’s a review of the Avett Brothers’ new CD “I and Love and You,” at Country Standard Time‘s website.

  • then buy some ad space, CST

  • Rob

    3 – Nick
    Sep 30, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    “I disagree with most of these reviews. I felt the Avett Bros were trying to be the Beatles but lack the artistic craftsmanship. It left the album stale, slow, and dull. I’ve listened to the album twice and I can’t recall a tune. The songs form one big gray sound blob, all of them lacking originality.”

    Booo! This album rocks! Trying to be the Beatles!? Get out of here! Never really heard the Beatles described as Folk/Bluegrass/Grunge/Rock. Avett’s are the best!