REVIEW: Avett Brothers - "I and Love and You"

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The Avett Brothers have always known how to turn a phrase. The title track to their latest, Rick Rubin-helmed project I and Love and You plays on what the group does best -- waxing nostalgic about lost love, longing for home, and playing it back to you like you hadn't heard it. For fans of the band, it's a recipe that plays along with the rest of the group's substantial catalog. But, from the opening salvo of the record, the winds of change are set in motion. A lonely piano riff leads into accented horns and an orchestral sound which is less bluegrass and more studio, chamber sounding. From the spareness of Country Was or Emotionalism, the Avett Brothers haven't been the most experimental of songwriters. Like I said, though, if you got something working for you, why quit it? On I and Love and You, the Avett Brothers don't give up on what they did before, but they make a distinct choice to flesh it out while maintaining the folksy feel -- think John Hartford wanders into one of Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds sessions.

Thankfully, the orchestration doesn't get in the way (does it ever when Rubin's by the board?). At the forefront, still, are the Avett Brothers voices, working in harmony, pressing onward into the uncharted core of the heart or America or the heart of America. For folks who caught onto this whole return to folky based rock through Fleet Foxes, welcome to the driving power of the souls of songwriters. Of course, phrases like this don't just bring up the requisite questions about the power of song, they also smack of a certain sentimentalism. And, to be honest, you gotta give into your sentimentality a bit to enjoy the Avett Brothers. This record isn't super ironic, it's vaguely danceable, I guess the easiest way to define it is to say that the Avett Brothers mean what they say and say what they mean--a grueling proposition for indie rock critics who tend to like their guitars played by picks of wit.

What's the power of sentiment? Well, that's pretty damn subjective, which means, that you gotta wear your heart on your sleeve and be damn good at songwriting to make it work. The line between therapy and sentimentality is one that gets blurred far too often. What the Avett Brothers are great at is merging both -- mixing song structure, mining the depths of American songwriting types, and sharing a bit of the pain and pleasure. The best parts of this album aren't found on the first listen but on the 10th or 20th way through, when your mood has changed, and when the album changes you. Because that's why we listen, right? To get a little closer to being human. Or to get a little closer to saying what being human means...


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