Review Summary: Six songs is just enough.
The first Gleam album was released shortly after Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions which had been a great departure from the Avett’s more country, bluegrass directed sort of folk. Four Thieves Gone had taken the brothers deeper into punk territory, mixing tempos and powerful rythms to make a much more driven and experimental folk/punk sound.
The Gleam is a BIG change. It consists of six simple, beautiful, and fairly stripped down songs. SANGUINE starts the album off, mellow and sweet. It is a tune about keeping your head in a crazy world, and features a nice acoustic solo. The simplicity is instantly noticed, solely vocals and acoustic guitar, no bass. The albums next song, WHEN I DRINK, is more up tempo and cheerful. The guitar plugs along as they sing about drinking, making bad decisions, learning from mistakes, and self improvement. Profound themes in a simple song spoken in a voice that all can relate to, it is one of the albums gems. The attention to detail and intricacy in this song is astounding, as Seth sings “But when I drink/ I hear things that aren't really there,” if you listen very carefully or with headphones you will hear a tiny and sweet violin piece for only one bar, then the song moves on.
BACKWARDS WITH TIME is another album gem, starting with a simple harmonica line, layering into guitar picking. It is infectiously catchy, great to whistle, and an Avett Brothers classic.
“Some say with age that a purpose comes clear
I see the opposite happening here
Are we losing the fight?
Are we growing backwards with time?”
The album highlight is IF IT’S THE BEACHES, which showcases the extraordinary lyricism and sincerity that above all make the Avett Brothers the band that they are. It starts slow and soft, a simple chorded guitar riff sung over with lyrics “Don't say it's over/Cause that's the worst news I could hear I swear that I will /Do my best to be here just the way you like it/ Even though its hard to hide/ Push my feelings all aside/ I will rearrange my plans and change for you”
The guitar gains tempo and a sweeping guitar solo pumps over it, followed by a gorgeous violin piece under a simulated phone reconciliation from a struggling couple, landing in silence as it closes out with a booming piano, guitar chords, and violin.
“If it's the beaches
If it's the beaches' sands you want
Then you will have them
If it's the mountains' bending rivers
Then you will have them
If it's the wish to run away
Then I will grant it
Take whatever what you think of
While I go gas up the truck
Pack the old love letters up
We will read them when we forget why we left here”
The Gleam is a collection of six songs which flow together seamlessly. It is earnest, and beautiful, as expected by the Avett Brothers, and should not be overlooked as a short side piece or an EP. It is one of their best works. Just under 22 minutes in length, six songs is just enough.