When The Avett Brothers eventually look back on their career, there is little doubt over what will be considered their defining moment. Meeting and working with Rick Rubin – who has worked with artists including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys, Aerosmith and Adele, to name just a few – will always be the moment when The Avett Brothers really harnessed their potential and started a whole new phase of their career.
In fact, the album that brought them to the wider public’s consciousness, 2009’s critically acclaimed I And Love And You, could almost be considered a minor renaissance for The Avett Brothers. While it was the North Carolina act’s sixth studio album, the record was their first under Rubin’s American Recordings label and under his disciplined approach the band prospered. I And Love And You saw Seth and Scott Avett and co. break into the top 20 of the Billboard 200 and do the rounds on all the American late-night TV shows.
If that wasn’t enough, they also performed at the 53rd Grammy Awards in 2011 – playing alongside Mumford And Sons and Bob Dylan on a thrilling performance of Maggie’s Farm. However, with success and recognition comes expectation and pressure, something that The Avett Brothers appear to deal with comfortably on their new album, entitled The Carpenter. Their seventh effort once again sees Rubin at the helm. And like their first release under the well-renowned producer, The Carpenter takes their bluegrass roots and develops them into something bigger and more polished.
If that suggests the band have lost their edge to fit a wider appeal, then don’t worry. Like their previous effort, The Carpenter sees a natural progression of their sound, but one that doesn’t lose sight of what they were when they released their first full-length album back in 2002. Scott Avett has said of the band’s latest effort: “This album feels much more like a whole of refined parts that work together – sort of like a well-oiled motor – than records in the past did.” The Carpenter is undoubtedly The Avett Brothers’ most cohesive album to date, one that is strung together by the overarching theme of death.
The opening song, The Once And Future Carpenter, is a beautiful acoustic melody, which gives a positive and uplifting spin on death, as the brothers sing: “If I live the life I’m given/ I won’t be scared to die.” It kicks off a strong opening run of songs on the album, with the banjo-led first single Live And Die and the melancholic Winter In My Heart continuing the theme of mortality – and depression in the case of the latter. If the tone of the album often verges on dark and soul-searching themes, the musicianship often provides light relief. Songs such as Geraldine and I Never Knew You verge more on soft rock and are undeniably infectious.
Yet one of the highlights on The Carpenter is Pretty Girl In Michigan – a song that has gone through many different incarnations since it was originally written back in 2005. The Avett Brothers have tried to record it for the past two albums, but finally found a formula that works. It’s the roughest and most rock-orientated track on the album and encompasses more of the band’s origins, but it never feels out of place in the grand scheme of the LP. While the album does weigh heavily on its dark themes – possibly too much so at times – The Avett Brothers have never sounded better than they do on The Carpenter. If The Avett Brothers did feel under pressure to produce a suitable follow up to I And Love And You, it certainly doesn’t tell.