Review Summary: Oh, The Avett Brothers... Do Me
I hate trying to tell people about the Avett Brothers, because typically the response is “Oh, well then you should listen to Mumford and Sons. They are super great!” I’m not a particularly opinionated person so I’ll usually respond with something along the lines of “Oh yeah, they are pretty good.” And typically that will be the end of our conversation, but then you have the other people who will continue down this path and ramble on and on about why they are so great, and that’s when I get mad.
So here is the deal, folksy music is trendy. For whatever reason bands like Bon Iver and Mumford and Sons are incredibly popular right now. In a few years (maybe a few months, trends are exhausting) though most trend followers probably won’t care. Surely some will stay fans of these bands, mostly people who really like folk/Americana music for its sound and honesty, still plenty of others will have moved on to whatever is next (maybe polka?)
People in the first group will probably like the Avett Brothers, yet those in the second group probably will not. You see one thing that separates the Avett Brothers from these other bands is their sincerity. These brothers are the definition of “good ol’ boys” that have been making music since they were young, and doing it professionally for about 13 years. Now experience writing music doesn’t inherently mean it is more sincere than a younger band, but in this case we have a band that makes the honest music that they like for 9 years before hitting the big time. This gives albums like The Second Gleam their emotional credibility.
The first two songs are Tear Down the House and Murder in the City, already we are off to an emotional start. They are slow, and in theory could have been written by any folk-pop or country band on the radio, but there is something about this band of brothers writing it that feels right. Let’s look at Murder in the City. It only takes 19 seconds of beautiful folk guitar playing before Scott Avett asks “If I get murdered in the city, don’t go revengin’ in my name/ one person dead from such is plenty, no need to go get locked away.” Later in the song he reminisces about life with his brother, and asks his loved ones to read his will, and it’s only the second song on the cd. Really though all of these songs have so much heart that is sadly lacking from the Avett’s contemporaries on either side of the spectrum. It is also worth noting that in keeping with the lyrical tone, many of the songs on The Second Gleam are much slower than a typical fare. However they are fleshed out with plenty of finger picking and vocal harmonies from the brothers.
The Avett Brothers are famous for their rambunctious live shows where the brothers jump around between instruments and heavily interact with the crowd. They are a fun band with a lot of energy; however The Second Gleam is not a fun ep. It’s an emotional release that set the stage for the album they would go on to release the following year, the appropriately titled Emotionalism, and though it’s not always the most excited set of songs, you get the feeling that they would have written them whether they were getting paid for it or not. But hey, lucky for us they do get paid for it. If you have yet to check out the Avett Brothers, you could do worse than to start with The Second Gleam, and if you are an Avett fan already then don’t let your collection be complete without it.
(For the record, I don’t hate Mumford and Sons. I just think they are a highly sterilized pop folk band that was made to make less smart people feel classy. It’s that innocuous, bad art that is made to be marketed, basically Coldplay with a banjo.)