THE AVETT BROTHERS: MIGNONETTE (2004)
1) Swept Away (sentimental version); 2) Nothing Short Of Thankful; 3) The New Love Song; 4) At The Beach; 5) Signs; 6) Hard Worker; 7) Letter To A Pretty Girl; 8) Please Pardon Yourself; 9) Pretty Girl At The Airport; 10) Pretty Girl From Cedar Lane; 11) Causey Commentary; 12) One Line Wonder; 13) The Day That Marvin Gaye Died; 14) SSS; 15) Swept Away; 16) A Gift For Melody Anne; 17) Complainte D'Un Matelot Mourant; 18) Salvation Song; 19*) Signs; 20*) Laser Pants.
Fourteen guitar-and-banjo folkie romps at fifty minutes not enough for you? Then take this: eighteen guitar-and-banjo folkie romps that clock in at a near-record seventy minutes. It is no longer merely a case of being «prolific» — it is an ever increasingly arrogant gesture, because even if the Avett Brothers were your average mainstream-oriented Nashville act, they would have kept it shorter; but since, five years into their career, they still haven't covered 'Orange Blossom Special', their output continues to be oriented at adventurous people. And the fact that an adventurous person will have to endure seventy minutes of banjo music makes it one hell of an adventure.
Fortunately, and, in fact, unexpectedly, the Brothers continue to excel at songwriting. In fact, they are excelling at it more excellently than ever before. 'Swept Away', previously released on its own EP and present here in two versions (the «sentimental» one differs from the regular one by adding girlie backup vocals from the Avetts' sister Bonnie and, ha ha ha, dropping the banjo — apparently, the banjo is not a sentimental instrument by the Bros.' reckoning, and I do concur), is indeed a hauntingly beautiful folk ballad: you may easily think you've heard it before, either on some Fairport Convention album or in one of your previous lifetimes — chasing fair Saxon maidens in Sherwood Forest or something — but trust me, you haven't.
'Signs' is another subtle tear-jerker, particularly the quiet demo version included at the end, an intimate plea on the part of an abused and misused lover that, for some reason, again works better without the banjo: clearly, the way I see it, the instrument is simply incapable — or, not to make any sweeping statements, the Avetts are incapable of conveying gentle, soulful emotions with the instrument, making good use of it only on fast-paced dunce numbers (such as the frantic 'Hard Worker', on which they quite masterfully use the hoedown thing to convey the protagonist's buzzing work atmosphere).
The boys get «conventionally adventurous» only twice; once, during a chaotic, nearly free-form coda to 'One Line Wonder', then on the atmospheric instrumental 'Complainte D'Un Matelot Mourant', on which a grumbly banjo duets with a somber cello over sea waves and creaking masts for five minutes (apparently related to the album title, which refers to the sinking of the Mignonette in 1884). If played over and over on headphones to a properly attuned brain, the composition may eventually hypnotize; but overall, it shows that perhaps the Brothers' strenghiest strength still lies in their catchy choruses rather than sonic experimentation.
Describing individual songs is useless as always, and, although only 'Swept Away' truly swept me away, there is no filler involved — each composition is well thought out and assigned at least one minor emotional punchline, sometimes more. However, on the technical scale of things, nothing whatsoever has changed since Carolina Jubilee, so do not take my exhilarated thumbs up here as a hidden hint at Seth Avett's having developed an extra octave.
Check "Mignonette" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Mignonette" (MP3) on Amazon