We're definitely on a good run. We feel like this is the core of it. We're going to change. As the songs change, we'll change We're looking forward to a lot of years of playing together.
-Seth Avett from a 2007 interview
Though those words were said by Seth Avett more than one year ago, they ring so true today. In just a few short years, the Avett Brothers went from nowhere to indie darlings. They made another leap with their recent signing to Rick Rubin's American Recordings which will also have Mr. Rubin producing their first record for the label.
The story of the Avett Brothers reflects the beauty and soulfulness of their music. Concord, NC native Dolph Ramseur found the Avetts right as their acoustic side project found its wings from their original band, Nemo. Ramseur, who started and maintains his record label in handshake fashion, understood them immediately:
They blew me away. They were only playing about half originals at that time, but I knew they had it. I couldn’t explain at the time why they had it, and that’s probably the reason I knew they had it.
Credit Ramseur for seeing this, and credit the Avetts for what they do.
In theory, it seems simple. Scott on banjo, Seth on guitar, and Bob Crawford on bass play acoustic music with a foot in old time traditions combined with lyrical themes that resonate today. In practice, their music is no small feat, played with the deepest sense of emotion.
It might be easy to write off The Gleam II as an EP "bridge" from the indie world to their American Recordings debut. Although it is that, it becomes much more. As Seth spoke above about the songs changing, they have, and they stir and pull on ones senses.
On their previous breakthrough Emotionalism, the Avetts began to hint at the songs on Gleam II with their soulful gem Living of Love, sung by Seth. The austere soul of this EP communicates a transcendent depth of feeling. For those that are fans of Van Morrison's, The Gleam II invades the same territory as his overlooked gem, Veedon Fleece.
Seth's voice reminds these ears of the Band's Rick Danko. It is raw and fragile, the essence of vulnerability, and his subtle guitar runs float in much the same manner. On the other hand, Scott's voice comes from the gut a little more, providing a kind of Levon Helm-type of countering force. Both brothers can channel the soul of Richard Manuel.
So, in what took the Band three voices to convey, the Avetts do with two while sounding completely their own.
Perhaps these lines from the opener "Tear Down This House" explain the Avett's heartfelt sensibility best:
I remember crying over you
And I don't mean like a couple of tears
And then I'm blue
I’m talkin’ about collapsing
And screaming at the moon
But I'm a better man
For having gone through it
Yes, I'm a better man
For having gone through…
There is crying, and then there's crying. The Avett Brothers know the difference. One listen to the Gleam II, and you will know it as well.
- Jim Markel