Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Album Review: The Avett Brothers - The Carpenter

Album Rating: B+
I love just about everything about living in the South: how the temperature is rarely below 45 degrees, the dresses young and promiscuous ladies wear to sporting events and parties, the way I only get yelled at and belittled if I question the divinity of Sweet Tea and if I forget to eat Jesus's body at Communion, and the way Southerners frequently say words like "daggum," "reckon," and "ain't."  Even though the South will always be the unsophisticated, innocent, and wholesome little brother to the supposedly more intellectual and progressive parts of the U.S., the Lenny to their George, there is one thing Southerners do that goes against their normal simple and pure thinking: their reason for being passionate about a particular genre of music or a particular form of art.

Often times Southerners chose the music they like not based off of connections, nostalgia, quality, or even preference, but because of social and fiscal politics.  If you ask someone why they like country music you will end up getting an answer that features buzzwords like "tax cuts," "constitution," and "Fox News" instead of getting stories about old memories, big choruses, or how they were on the same old dirt road that every country singer throughout history has been on.  If you ask someone why they like hip-hop you will end up getting an answer that features more aggressive buzzwords like "F---!," racism," and even a simple nonsensical "damn!"  Instead of choosing the music they like based on its quality southerners often chose music based on the same reason they chose Romney or Obama, they same reason they move into one neighborhood instead of another one, and the same reason they watch one news network instead of another one.  This means that talking to Southerners about music is like talking "Tea Party and Occupy," instead of talking about the song that was playing when you first occupied your girlfriends heart at that one party.  Instead of choosing music based on quality, nostalgia, life connections, genre, or even something as shallow as what is playing on the radio, Southerners chose music on a crooked right wing versus left wing basis.  And by choosing only one musical wing, they never get the full flight that a truly unlimited and non political love of music can give us.

Because of this musical culture, I was purposefully ignorant of alternative country, bluegrass, and southern rock band The Avett Brothers.  I figured that the "fans" of the Avett Brothers were just leeches and the TAB were their waterbugs, that they would pretend to like their music because they were new and from my hometown, but they would ditch them once the next "ideological statement" came out.  I figured that their was no need to listen to The Avett Brothers because they were just another puppet; another chorus they viewed as a pulpit. 

But when you listen to the Avett Brothers you realize that they represent the beautiful simplicity and simple beauty of Southern music, traditions, and culture just about as well as any 21st Century artist.  The band is not a buzzword, a pulpit, or a waterbug, instead they are one of the most talented southern rock, alternative country, and bluegrass bands I have heard in a while.  The lyrics and songwriting are the first thing that make The Carpenter the perfect southern album.  The lyrics exist in a state of perfectly combined contradictions: the lyrics on the album combine the laid back nature of Jimmy Buffett, the aggressive yet soothing lyrics of Ryan Adams, and the rocking and party nature of Lynyrd Skynyrd and .38 Special.  Even though the lyrics were obviously influenced by these pioneers of country, folk, and southern rock, the songwriting on The Carpenter is beyond original: TAB write loves songs, songs about the meaning of life, songs about religion, songs about some pretty girl they met in the "north," songs referencing Paul Newman, and even songs about "getting on those praying knees." It is safe to say the Avett Brothers were not only influenced by just about every important Southern artist, but it is also safe to say their lyrics summarize just about every important aspect of Southern culture and tradition.  The lyrics and songwriting are the first reason The Carpenter has the potential to be the ultimate Southern album.

The second reason The Carpenter has potential to be the ultimate Southern album is because of the albums original instrumentation and original sound.  The album not only combines the lyrical stylings of Ryan Adams, Jimmy Buffett, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, but it also combines their folk, country, and Southern Rock styles.  The result of all these influences being combined on just about every track produces an original sound, but not a repetitive sound: The Carpenter has a couple acoustic ballads, a couple of hard rocking and borderline grunge songs, a few folks songs, and one or two "not dirt road" country songs.  The varied yet consistent sound and instrumentation of The Carpenter is one of the reasons it has the potential to be the ultimate Southern album.

On "Live and Die," the Avett Brothers sing "you and I we're the same/live and die we're the same" in perfect harmony over a screeching, pulsating, and beautiful guitar riff.  Even though the Avett Brothers might like to think of them as "the same" as everyone else, The Carpenter proves they are a step above every other country, bluegrass, and folk act instrumentally, lyrically, and even creatively.  By using significant Southern rock, country, and folk acts as influences and creating an album filled with giant choruses, great stories, and gorgeous instrumentation the Avett Brothers have created an album that might be more than an entire regions ultimate album.  The Carpenter might be a reason for Southerners to actually talk about music again. 
1. The Once and Future Carpenter
2. Live and Die
3. Winter In My Heart
4. Pretty Girl From Michigan
5. I Never Knew You
6. February Seven
7. Through My Prayers
8. Down With The Shine
9. A Fathers First Spring
10. Geraldine
11. Paul Newman Vs. The Demons
12. Life

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