After a few weeks of perfectly respectable classic album suggestions, I thought it was time to recommend something a little further afield. It’s for that reason that this week’s column is dedicated to the 2006 album Four Thieves Gone, by The Avett Brothers. If you are yet to hear of this band - as I know many of you will be - The Avett Brothers is primarily made up of (you guessed it) brothers Scott and Seth Avett. Their style is described on a wide spectrum, including (but not limited to): bluegrass, rock, folk, Americana, punk-Americana, rock-folk and so on. They mix bluegrass instruments with rock tones and occasionally the odd bit of spoken word to create riotous music that is influenced by many different styles, and influences many themselves. People like Mumford and Son’s banjoist Winston Marshall cite The Avett Brothers as having a huge affect on the music they make; whether you take that as a good sign or not is up to you.
One of the reasons I think this album is worth listening to is that the group play with lyrics in a way not many others can. Throughout the album social realism is favoured over deep allegorical images, but it’s done so in a simple and touching way that does more than, say, Ed Sheeran singing about building a ‘lego house’. The first track Talk On Indolence, for example, plays with a simple melody to quite frankly deal with the stress of trying to impress someone you fancy: “I’m a little nervous about what you’ll think when you see me in my swimming trunks.” These kind of lyrics make the record seem intensely personal and simultaneously endearing, as the listener can imagine exactly how they are feeling. Often the melodies are simple, but I don’t think this is a negative. Instead it works well treading the line between bluegrass and rock, letting the lyrics drive the record. Tracks like Distraction #47 exemplify this structure, again telling a simple and relatable story: “How difficult it is when you kind of love two girls to figure out which one you miss… well I kinda loved two girls and now I kinda lost them both.”
However, it’s not always rip-roaring banjo-bashing. The band moves from gargantuous to gentle, such as in Pretty Girl From Feltre. The Avett Brothers have a series of Pretty Girl From… tracks, but Feltre has always been my favourite. The high pitch and subtle piano are a complete change from the first track, but again draw us into an incredibly personal account. It tells the story of an old relationship with “Susannah”, capturing the angst of being in love, and “walking a mile into town, hoping to see you around… hoping we’ll go to your room.” Singing about the “lure of your folk’s cargo van”, the band manage to encapsulate the limits of a young relationship and the nostalgia that comes with remembering moments that, at the time, didn’t seem that important. Similarly, on Sixteen In July, they sing sweetly about nothing much more than getting your driver’s permit on turning sixteen, and in doing so capture the deeper feelings of freedom and excitement that we might forget come with it.
Now I’m not saying that this album is necessarily up there with Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix’s, but I do think that The Avett Brothers are worth a listen. More than anything they are very genuine artists who appeal to my love of realist lyrics in a way Ed Sheeran will never be able to. This band flies a little under the radar, but have a strong group of hardcore fans who’ll defend them to the death. They also have a little bit for everyone in their records, from the rockers to the folksters and almost everything in between.