In an era when speed is everything and change is measured in seconds and minutes rather than years, the career of the Avett Brothers has been a refreshing change to that rule. Starting first as almost an acoustic experimental offshoot to the brothers' punk-based band, Nemo, the band's sincerity and soul quickly took hold with the group of loyal fans that have grown into legions.
With the release of I and You and Love, the Avetts stand on the precipice of a massive career leap. When uber-producer Rick Rubin moved his ever-itinerant American Recordings catalog to Sony in a large omnibus deal, the Avett Brothers became one of his first projects. After years of working with already established A-listers, Rubin's selection of the up and coming Avett Brothers was a heartening choice.
The beauty of this record is that it is a triumphant, yet logical step forward for the band. Seth and Scott Avett along with long time bandmate Bob Crawford and cellist Joe Kwon are augmented by some of Rubin's favorite studio players including Heartbreaker Benmont Tench. Rubin's earthily austere production style makes sure that nothing is lost, only gained in the process. Seth Avett explains, “it’s how I’ve always wanted our band to sound. What I like is an absolute presentation of clarity."
"I and Love and You" also furthers the open-hearted themes of love and pain that the Avetts have been exploring since their previous album, Emotionalism and the follow up EP, The Gleam II. The brothers decided to take this "exploration" a step further by explaining their concept of love in this passage from the album's liner notes:
In any case, and by whatever inspiration, these words [from the album's title] are woven deeply into the fibers of our existence. Our longing to hear them from the right place is maddeningly and simultaneously our finest strength and our most gentle weakness. The album "I and Love and You" is unashamedly defined by such a dynamic of duality.
Needless to say, these subject are as old as humanity itself and rich in aspects.
The sonic changes Rubin has helped to bringout in the band are subtle, but sure. The refined studio "clarity" gives the listener a new feel on the first notes of the title track. We hear the chords of a piano which is different for the Avetts who are known for acoustic guitar and banjo. These changes add warmth to the proceedings while letting everyone know that they are trying something slightly different.
Freeing the Avetts up from any past instrumental constraints also has allowed some of their other influences shine through more directly rather than being hidden behind banjos and acoustic guitar strums. Pop music sensibilities especially shine behind the energies of The Perfect Space and And It Spread into the lush orchestrations of Head Full Of Doubt/Road Full Of Promise. Even some of their punk vibes comes through on Slight Figure Of Speech and Kick Drum Heart.
The pop feel goes so far that they might even have a pair radio songs in It Goes On And On and Tin Man. Still, their long time fans will still find plenty to love here. They only need to check out more familiar-sounding Avett gems in touching songs like Ten Thousand Words, Laundry Room, and Ill With Want.
This kind of artistic advancement that is more about deepening rather than moving on is the sign of a great major label debut. This is a great use of an increased budget as an improvement upon the inherent limits small budgets.
The best major label debuts serve as a summary of sorts to a young artist while also bringing new listeners up to date. So many bands struggle with this transition, getting lost along the way. It says a lot about the long term staying power of the Avett Brothers, supported by the helping hand of Rick Rubin, that they don't fall into that trap.
- Jim Markel