Release Date: Sep 11, 2012
Record label: Republic / Rre
Genre(s): Folk, Alt-Country, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Folk
The most telling moment on the Avett Brothers' seventh album is "Pretty Girl From Michigan," part of a decade-long song series that began with "Pretty Girl From Matthews." On "Michigan," the bluegrass pickin' and raw country harmonies of previous "Girls" – born partly, one imagines, from repeated listens to the Stones' "Dead Flowers" – give way to fat electric-guitar ri_ s and pomaded, doo-wop-fl avored vocals. Like much of The Carpenter, it's the sound of a band pushing past an old identity and toward something bigger. 2009's Rick Rubin-produced I and Love and You confirmed the Avett Brothers' transformation from quasi-bluegrass combo to modern soft-rock force.
On their second album helmed by rock auteur Rick Rubin (and seventh full-length overall), The Carpenter, the North Carolina siblings deliver another gorgeously crafted set of sad and soulful laments laced with acoustic guitars, sharply punctuated piano, and delicate cello. From the moving reflection on death ”The Once and Future Carpenter” to the rollicking ”Pretty Girl From Michigan,” it’s a harmonious, cohesive album — like hope and regret all shaken up in a mason jar. A- Best Tracks:The Once and Future CarpenterLife .
Frenzied finger-picking, dueling croons and high drama set to free-spirited pop progressions: these are the components that go into defining any given Avett Brothers record. Be it the remorseful poetry of 2006’s The Gleam or the sweeping anthems we’d last heard from them with I And Love And You, Scott Avett, Seth Avett, Bob Crawford and Joe Kwon together continue to strike a balance between traditional country sensibilities and the rock and roll of tomorrow with The Carpenter. Though they’ve always played to the beat of their own kick-drum (quite literally, as Scott frequently double-fists one and a banjo live), I And Love And You was a watershed moment for the Concord, N.C.
It’s safe to say that after six albums, you pretty much know what you’re getting. For The Avett Brothers, this means a steady influx of their eclectic brand of bluegrass and folk with a splash of rock. The North Carolina natives mix the boisterousness with the balladry well, while delivering image-evoking lyrics in between. But is it possible for a group to be at the peak of its predictable powers this late in the game? The Avetts have proven better before, though it's still mighty hard to deny them.
With The Carpenter, the Avett Brothers and producer Rick Rubin have finished the job of sanding down the band’s rough edges. That process began back on 2009’s I and Love and You, the Avetts’ commercial breakthrough, major label debut, and first with Rubin. Let me be clear here. This is by no means an indictment of the album, because The Carpenter is strong from top to bottom.
The Carpenter, the sixth studio album (and second with producer Rick Rubin) from North Carolina’s Avett Brothers, is as amiable, quaint, mischievous, sad, and disarmingly sincere as its predecessor, landing somewhere between the easy, late summer nostalgia of Ron Sexsmith, the wise and wounded defiance of the Band, and the harmony-laden, pop-laced melancholy of the Jayhawks. Chillier and less piano-heavy than 2009's I and Love and You, The Carpenter feels like both an exorcism and a benediction, bringing down the magnifying glass on the myriad complexities of death while maintaining an unwavering sense of optimism, a delicate balance that's best exemplified on the lovely opener "The Once and Future Carpenter," a dusty, sprawling, yet meticulously crafted '70s folk-rock stunner that's built around the notion that "If I live the life I'm given I won’t be scared to die. " That adherence to maverick decency permeates much of the album, dutifully utilizing the outlaw country archetype of the weary traveler in search of an honest woman and a respite from the spiritual grind of the open road.
It has been said that The Carpenter is the Avett Brothers' album about death. Death is there in the first song, there in the last, and wheedling all in between. The brothers, actual and nominal, aren't the raggedy kids they were when they started out a decade ago; they've married, started families, settled down. The band's last record, 2009's I and Love and You, offered a tamer version of Seth and Scott Avett's splintered yawps and shredded banjo strings, and their live show has tempered as their catalog has filled out and fanbase expanded from regional devotees to national masses.
When did we last find perennial roadmen The Avett Brothers in the studio? It was 2009, and the North Carolina siblings had released I And Love And You, a solemn major-label debut that catapulted the boys into the middle of a new folk revival alongside bands that had just swapped their Big Muffs for banjos. So it’s easy to assume that The Avetts only recently picked up the bluegrass and old time melodies that are the skeleton of their music – in reality, they’ve been playing roots and acoustic music since the late ’90s, when Seth and Scott Avett ditched their rock acts and followed the unshakable draw of genetics to play together permanently, brothers in blood and hollow-body-holdin’ arms. And if you trace their sound back to 2002, when they first self-released Country Was, you’d here a bare, warm record bursting with old time romp; banjo, dobro and traditional vocals set to a new world beat.
What a frustrating band the Avett Brothers are. Not for renouncing the hoedowns of their early independent releases – you can't holler your love for ever, naturally – but for being capable of touching brilliance without ever sustaining it. Their last album, I and Love and You, contained a heartstopping gem in its title track, whose plain language and unembellished music added up to something greater than its parts.
The Avett Brothers reflect on a life of regret and heartache as they put their seventh album through the wringer marked “sad banjo”. Produced, like their 2009 album ‘I And Love And You’, by Rick Rubin, ‘The Carpenter’ goes for jangly ’60s country rather than modern Ryan Adams-style Americana. Benmont Tench of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers sets his organ to stun as brothers Seth and Scott Avett exchange melancholy yarns of “Hell in paradise” on ‘Life’, before tackling lonesome highways on the Dylan-esque ‘The Once And Future Carpenter’.
The Avett Brothers are obsessed with death. As easy as it is to forget the looming scythe of the Grim Reaper amid the band’s frequent talk of romance, conflicting morals, and endless barrage of “Pretty Girl” songs (here, we get the infectious doo-wop of “Pretty Girl From Michigan”), it’s always there, hanging in plain sight. And on The Carpenter, their seventh studio album, they speak about the topic more plainly than ever, as if inviting that curved blade to come slicing down through the air at any moment.
The maturation of North Carolina's the Avett Brothers that began on their last disc I and Love and You continues to flower with The Carpenter. In fact, the duo's punkish roots are left behind to such an extent that latecomers to the band might not even be aware of the band's original attraction. Taking The Carpenter at face value, the Avett's have unexpectedly developed into skilled tunesmiths.
North Carolina outfit’s seventh LP seduces the listener from its first track. Colin Irwin 2012 This North Carolina band enjoyed an unexpected breakthrough after the man with the Midas touch, Rick Rubin, came on board to produce their 2009 album I and Love and You, culminating in a celebrated performance at the 2011 Grammy Awards. The Avett Brothers took their time honing its successor, and it shows in the beautifully crafted songs in this flowing, unusually integrated record; it feels like an natural whole, rather than a collection of tracks conceived in isolation.
The most striking thing about the Avett Brothers' previous album, I And Love And You (the first one in their extensive catalogue that most current fans heard), was how immediate it sounded. A bunch of guys playing banjos and acoustic guitars, and singing harmony weren't supposed to sound that contemporary; they were supposed to honour the past. The jury of folk purists is still out when it comes to the North Carolina group, and The Carpenter is sure to only complicate matters.
Death and winter play heavily on The Carpenter, the Avett Brothers’ seventh studio album (and second with producer Rick Rubin, for his American label). And while these themes are quite weighty, the execution at times is uncharacteristically flat—polished to the point of extinguishing the raw emotion that defined the band’s past releases. No traces of screamed vocals a la I And Love And You’s “Kick Drum Heart” are to be found, and Scott Avett’s distinctive banjo is removed or relegated to the background in all but a handful of tracks.