“The Carpenter” continues carrying on the Avett tradition

The Avett Brothers’ “The Carpenter” earns a full five out of five stars.

The Carpenter continues carrying on the Avett tradition

Nathan Fan and Nathan Fan

I was first introduced to the Avett Brothers by one of my friends who grew up in the small-town rural setting evoked by the Brothers’ simple musicality and gut-wrenching lyrics. As for myself, I grew up in the epitome of suburbia — yet the bluegrass-punk fusion of the Avett Brothers created in me a sense of nostalgia for something I never had and made me long for the simplicity of the farm life and the iconic landmarks of America. I could listen endlessly to their songs about the romance of youth, the restless angst of growing up, and the passion of wanting to be a somebody, whatever that means. So I began following this band, and I was instantly grafted into the band’s passionate small-town fandom.

What impressed me most about the Avetts was the sheer humanity behind all their music. “The Carpenter,” their latest album, is a testament to the authenticity and emotional vulnerability of this band. The Avetts’ first albums were steeped with youthful desire and raw energy; their musicality was passionate, their performances unrestrained and their records sounded as if they had recorded in a barn. But “The Carpenter,” released 12 years after their first album, paints an entirely new image for the Avett Brothers, although it may cause some divided opinions in their fanbase.

New album shows progression and higher production standards

The album gets its name from its first track, titled “The Once and Future Carpenter,” which is a play on the T.H. White novel “The Once and Future King” and a possible allusion to Jesus Christ. As the Avetts have grown older, they have moved away from the nostalgia of young love and youthful angst, toward a contemplative look at the future, a mournful meditation on mortality, and a tuneful take on growing up.        

True, this album sounds very different from their other albums like “Four Thieves Gone” or “Carolina Jubilee,” but for those who have followed the timeline of their work, we see this as the inevitable next step in their journey as human beings and musicians. The tracks are diverse as far as theme and style, yet connected by an overarching soul. Tracks like “The Once and Future Carpenter,” “Live and Die,” “Through My Prayers” and my personal favorite track of the album, “Life,” are steeped with Christian undertones, yet not to the point of alienating irreligious fans. Other songs like the horn-infused “Down With the Shine,” the bluegrass rave “Geraldine” and the traditionally named “Pretty Girl from Michigan” are more akin to their familiar style. One of the most interesting tracks on the album is titled “Paul Newman vs. The Demons,” which functions both as a dedicated tribute to the legendary actor and a personal confession, set to an electric-rock infused style as one might expect from the title. Their song “Winter in my Heart” is slow and simple and flows like a song from fellow folk artist Andrew Bird. There are two other ballads on the album: “February 7” and “The Day I Met Eleanor,” both of which are excellent and dripping with emotional beauty.

The band has grown but retain familiarity

Fans of the Avetts with be very pleased with this work, so long as they can understand that although this is the same band that sang “I Killed Sally’s Lover” and screamed the chorus of “Colorshow,” they are not the same young men. This album is a further development in the polished, cleaned up production style of “I and Love and You.” But from one Avett fan to another, their songs still carry all the same heart and passion. The only change is that the energy is channeled in a more subtle way, a better utilization of the cello and piano talents, and songs that reflect more of their present lives, as we should expect. After all, the brothers are both married now and have children.

Many of us loved the Avett Brothers because we believed them to be the laureate of bluegrass Americana. They have not ceased to be those things. They’ve only grown up and have decided to utilize new technologies to improve their musicality. Their songs have mellowed out, yes, but looking at the big picture, they are adding a new collection of songs to their already extensive repertoire.

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