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.”