“She keeps it simple and I am thankful for her kind of lovin’ ‘cause it’s simple,” sings Seth Avett of The Avett Brothers.
He could just as well have been singing about himself and the music he and his brother Scott choose to make: simple tunes. Part folk, part country, no city. Scott and Seth play songs that take us back to simpler times. It’s quaint and honest relying on storytelling and personal lyrics and there is no sight of skyscrapers and city lights for miles.
Even in the titular song the call to Brooklyn resonates as a dream that is far and away. Consequently the tunes depend on their ability to impart a universal aesthetic in their lyric. The success or failure of their latest album I And Love And You can best be judged by how well The Avett Brothers use their words to transcend the mundane world to which “simpler” music can fall subject. As Scott is so aware in “Slight Figure Of Speech” – a track discussing the relationship between honesty in art and the business of music – “A slight figure of speech. I cut my chest wide open. They come and watch us bleed. Is it art like I was hoping now?”
The struggle between art and money is nothing new. All “working” artists at some point must grapple with the anxiety of sharing something personal for monetary gain. It would seem The Avett Brothers have their doubts and the encompassing theme of “the road” versus “home” is woven through the entirety of I And Love And You. It’s as if listening to this album is like standing behind the brothers as they stare at themselves in a mirror, questioning the integrity of their music and their lives on the road as it compares to life back in Concord, North Carolina.
In “The Perfect Space” – a tune with a shapeshifting complex – a candid longing is made known. A longing for friends “that love me for the man I’ve become, not the man that I was.” A very real fear of rejection is laid bare and can quite quickly be applied to the feeling of returning home after being on the road. The angst from “too much time spent in mirrors” is compounded in “Ten Thousand Words.” When recounting their decade as a band – and the most mainstream success they’ve yet achieved – the brothers anticipate that when they “are through ten years of making it to be the most of glorious debuts, [they’ll] come back home without [their] things, ‘cause the clothes [they] wore out there [they] will not wear ‘round you.” Those people who the brothers had hoped would love them for who they’ve become will sit around and “talk on things [they] don’t know about” pointing out the brothers’ “shortcomings and how the experts all have had their doubts.” In the two aforementioned songs there is also a supplemental preoccupation with debts, borrowing, and prices that must be paid, that also appears to hint at an apprehensive homecoming.
Not all of I And Love And You is about success and integrity, however. Much of the album recounts archetypal tales of love and love lost. “January Wedding” and title track “I And Love And You” tell opposing accounts of passion. The former of sealing up a true love and the latter of a kind of emotional impotence. Further, in these early tracks, the back-and-forth vocal approach between the brothers hampers the album’s flow. It gives the layout an experience of over-calculation and diminishes the inherent honesty of The Avett Brothers’ music. They are much better off when their vocals have a more harmonious relationship, especially as Scott takes the foreground and Seth assumes a more complimentary role.
“Kick Drum Heart” is a fun upbeat ditty that welcomes a necessary mood change about halfway through the record, and earlier in the mix “And It Spread” adds a touch of spice to the folk routine with an aggressive militant march. “Ill With Want” is also highly memorable for it’s lyrical prowess alone as the brothers self-awareness is in full swing.
“Head Full Of Doubt / Road Full Of Promise” is a beautiful song about destiny and dreams that features pertinent musical imagery in its use of organ. Rick Rubin’s skill seems to be in helping bands sound even more like themselves than they could on their own. As an organ hit coincides with the word “light”, images of Van Morrison bounce around the soundscape and Rubin has succeeded in focusing the attention on the brothers and not himself, as many producers inevitably fall short in attempting to do.
I And Love And You tapers off a bit at the end starting with “Tin Man” as the lyrical content gradually tires from being overworked. The formula of simple tunes with heartfelt lyrics has peaks and valleys on the album, but even in the midst of the stock folk numbers I And Love And You is significant in that it’s highly distinct and definable. It’s hardly a classic and certainly not definitive but it’s honest and likable; and although none of the tracks are impressive for their sheer musicality or are overwhelmingly dynamic, when married to a sincere lyric each one has a chance to “spread into [your] heart.”
3.5 / 5 stars