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The Avett Brothers: The Third Gleam
by George Graham
(American Recordings as broadcast on WVIA-FM 9/30/2020)
Out of the alternative and indie rock scene, there has emerged an acoustic folk-influenced school that features non-electric instruments but still maintains a lot of the energy of the alternative rock world. Some groups have achieved a degree of commercial success, notably Mumford and Sons, whose combination of electric music with a banjo attracted a lot of attention. Another group who has long been mixing alternative and folk is the Avett Brothers, whose previous recordings have reached the top of the Billboard rock albums chart.
Now the Avett Brothers are out with a new installment in their “Gleam” series, their eleventh release, The Third Gleam.
Concord, North Carolina-based Seth and Scott Avett have been playing together since childhood. The come from a musical family, with their grandmother being a concert pianist, and their father a guitarist. They began forming their own band when the rock bands in which each of the brothers had been playing broke up. At the time, Scott was in college and Seth still in high school. They called their group Nemo around 2000, but started bringing in acoustic folk influence and launched the Avett Brothers band with their first studio album in 2002. The band instrumentation has been distinctive with a cellist being a regular part of the group, and the Brothers switching instruments and including drums. Their live albums and energetic performance have won the Avett Brothers many fans, and over the span of their ten previous albums, they have mixed up the sound of the group.
Now for the latest in the Gleam series of scaled back projects, some of them EPs, the Seth and Scott Avett perform as an acoustic trio, with regular member Bob Crawford on acoustic bass. And the songs are decidedly on the contemplative side, as a contrast to some of their high-energy performances on their live albums. The songs are articulate and melodic, some poignant, and represent I think, some of the duo’s best writing. As mentioned, all the instrumentation is acoustic, there are a couple of songs that are just solo, and there is little overdubbing. At 33 and a half minutes the record is somewhere between and EP a full length album.
Opening is a piece called Victory, a melancholic, introspective song whose refrain is defines its outlook, “From victory I accept defeat.” <<>>
The all-too-frequent news of gun violence forms the basis of the song I Should’ve Spent The Day with my Family. It has the aura of an old Appalachian folk song, with contemporary details, and a reminder of how precious family is and not to take it for granted. <<>>
Another track that evokes old folk songs is Prison to Heaven written from the standpoint of a prisoner, who might be facing the proverbial Pearly Gates. <<>>
One of the more uplifting songs is Back into the Light about recovering from the sadness of bad fortune. <<>>
While many of the tracks on the album evoke the quality of old folk songs, Women Like You has lyrics that sound as if they could have come from an old Broadway musical. It’s performed solo and is quite charming. <<>>
Also on the sentimental side is I Go to My Heart, a musical statement of fidelity. <<>>
The album ends with its longest track called The Fire another piece of musical introspection. <<>>
The Third Gleam, the new release from the Avett Brothers is a fine, though rather short collection of songs from the popular alternative folk group, that puts the siblings in an acoustic setting, with just Seth and Scott Avett joined only by bassist Bob Crawford for many of the tunes. Several of the eight tracks on the album are on the melancholy side, and there is nothing like the energetic performances on their live albums. But it is a kind of perfect rainy day record with songs that can really grow on you, aided by the stripped down arrangements that allows the listener to focus on the composition and lyrics.
Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A.” The acoustic instrumentation is has a warm, natural texture, and the vocals have a clean, intimate sound.
Folk and alternative rock have been mixing it up for quite a few years now. The Avett Brothers have been one of the best and most popular of the genre. But The Third Gleam is a departure into acoustic folk, and the result is one of the group’s finest releases.
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