THE AVETT BROTHERS: THE CARPENTER (2012)
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.
For those who have already forgotten what I And Love And You sounded like, here is the direct sequel, sounding every bit the same as its predecessor — not surprisingly, once again produced by Rick Rubin. Permanent fans of the Avetts need not worry: none of the atmospheres, philosophies, and stylizations have been betrayed. And there is yet another ʽPretty Girlʼ song out there — what else does one need for total orgiastic happiness?
It does seem as if they took one step back from the «excessive» poppiness, cut down on the pianos a little bit, brought in lots of guest players to put a little more emphasis on ensemble playing, and only allowed themselves a heavy, distorted guitar sound on two or three of the tracks so as to break up the monotonousness. In other words, The Carpenter is even more formulaic, and it all depends on the sheer number of new hooks they may or may not have brought into this world by writing all this new material.
Personally, I think the songs are generally quite good, and that the B-level magic touch is still with the brothers. When they go totally generic, they still remember to wind it up with a cozy slogan — ʽThe Once And Future Carpenterʼ, for instance, is at first a forever-on-the-road anthem worthy of a Neil Young country-folk album, cleverly landing the last line of the refrain ("If I live the life I'm given, I won't be scared to die") at the center of your attention. Then you sort of realize that "once I was a carpenter..." makes this a little more than just a forever-on-the-road anthem, and start nervously searching for a Nazareth reference among all the Dallases and Detroits, but by the time you realize that there isn't one and that you have been lyrically stupefied, the song is already over and you just have to go back one more time. Clever, eh?
Of the upbeat songs, the catchiest choruses and vibes are on ʽLive And Dieʼ and ʽI Never Knew Youʼ, and the best use of electric guitar is during the in-between verse interludes on ʽPretty Girl From Michiganʼ — but, other than that, I am at a complete loss trying to say something refreshing. Even these hooks, to tell the truth, do not stay around for very long, maybe because the feelings they generate are already so «Avettish» that they are unable to attach themselves to any fresh brain cells. But I do like the vibe anyway, and they still write lyrics that are just way too thought-provoking for the average country-western standard (ʽFebruary Sevenʼ).
The solitary dark horse of the album is ʽPaul Newman Vs. The Demonsʼ, a significantly darker (as already suggested by the title), louder, and less predictable tune than the rest. It is hardly anything like a Pink Floydian masterpiece of fear and paranoia (these guys lack the proper studio wizardry to brew that sort of sonic magic), but it is still a successful first foray into «darkness» by the Avetts, who usually prefer to converse with their angels rather than demons. Gritty bass, shrieky harmonies, guitar feedback, it all could have sounded like generic alt-rock in the end, but it doesn't because all of these things are used sparingly. Not that the song has much to do with Paul Newman, either, but nice of dear late Paul to provide such useful incentives even four years after his demise.
A traditional thumbs up out of respect for all the intelligence, professionalism, and sincerity, but that's about it: unfortunately, in three years The Avett Brothers have neither learned anything particularly interesting to enlighten us, nor whetted their songwriting instincts to the point where their emotions would burst out, rather than be distributed through the usual modest trickle. Or maybe I'm just too greedy — after all, the way I'd want things done just isn't the way they usually get done nowadays.
Check "The Carpenter" (MP3) on Amazon