I and Love and You
The Avett Brothers (Sony, 2009)
The Avett Brothers are a sibling pair from North Carolina that for several years has been building a reputation as bluegrass-and-folk-inspired singer-songwriters. Most of the buzz has been about their live shows, at which the brothers (joined by an unrelated bassist) play banjo and guitar with their hands and bass drum and high-hat cymbal with their feet. Lately they've also been joined by a cellist.
But that's not the band you'll find on I and Love and You, the Brothers' first major-label recording. There are splashes of banjo, and one full-fledged hoedown, but mostly we get piano-driven songs with Beatle-worthy melodies. The media attention for this disc has focused on the role of producer Rick Rubin, the metal and rap guy who resurrected the careers of Johnny Cash and, for some unknowable reason, Neil Diamond.
But the real stars of this show are the Avett's classic brother harmonies and lyrics that traffic in moral and spiritual verities as ancient as their native hills. Even when writing about Bob Dylan, I've always resisted lengthy lyrical quotes, but check out these lines from "Perfect Space": "I want to have pride / Like my mother has / And not like the kind in the Bible that turns you bad / I want to have friends / That I can trust / That love me for the man I've become / Not the man that I was."
Or these from "Head Full of Doubt": "There's a darkness upon me that's flooded in light / In the fine print they tell me what's wrong and what's right / And it comes in black and it comes in white / And I'm frightened by those who don't see it."
And then there's the title track, choking over those "three words that are hard to say." These very young men, with very old souls, are just at the start of something important. For a pop culture drenched in corrosive cynicism, they may even make earnestness and sincerity cool again.