Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Having seen two dynamic, energetic performances by The Avett Brothers at the last two Harvest Jazz and Blues Festivals in Fredericton, plus viewed a recent DVD of an older set, I remain awed but a little winded.  The group very purposefully puts a tremendous amount of effort into their performances, including exaggerated gestures and lots of banging about on acoustic instruments.  Subtlety, thy name is not Avett.  I understand this is to make it a memorable performance for the crowd, and I'll give 'em that.  The trouble is, sometimes I find it over the top, especially since they are doing, you know, acoustic music and therefore you'd expect a broader range of dynamics.

The thing is, that's what they deliver on their albums.  Even though they have been bigger as a live band, especially on the festival circuit, the albums have been doing just fine of late, and this is the group's second in a year, following the 2012 release of The Carpenter, which hit #4 on the charts, and earned them a Grammy nomination.  The albums come close together because the songs came out of the same large pot of writing, enough good ones to keep the faucet running full blast.  There are some contrasts though; a little more banjo, Scott Avett's preferred axe these days, and an overall calmer, rootsier set of material than The Carpenter.  It's certainly much less about volume and belting out the tunes than the live show.  Here the emphasis is on the words and singing, the instruments colouring instead of driving the material.  And when you do get a chance to listen, to take a breath, the quality comes out.  After four years of hearing I and Love and You as a big sing-along, it's good to realize there are interesting words and stories in there, lovely melodies, and emotive voices.

Another interesting moment comes on Souls Like The Wheels, which actually was recorded live, and is one of the rare times in the group's show where they do quiet right down.  It's played just on acoustic by Seth Avett, gently picked, with a perfect pretty vocal.  The audience gamely tries to keep quiet, and only a few stray hoots can be heard, from a crowd used to cheering most of the two hours.  It's so much more powerful than another explosive folkie number.  The deluxe version of the new disc also comes with four demo versions of new cuts, and darned if I don't like them a little better than the full productions, the rawness and the simpler instrumentation again allowing us to hear even more of the actual songs.  Anyway, the group is sitting pretty, with the album highlighting the songs, the tour letting them be the big performers they want to be. Feel free to add your own fist-pumps if you miss the live energy.

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