REVIEW: The Avett Brothers, The Gleam II, Ramseur

Posted September 22nd, 2008 by drew

What are a few country boys to do? Following their defining release, 2007’s Introducing: Emotionalism, Concord N.C.’s The Avett Brothers have enjoyed what most burgeoning bands would consider one hell of a year: National TV appearances, sold out shows in mid-sized venues across the U.S., a mention on Perez Hilton, and a move to the majors to record an album with Rick Rubin. With such widespread acclaim and a staggering tour schedule, the bucolic Avett boys, once considered a regional act at best, have precipitously found themselves perched on the cusp of national recognition.

So, in between all the hype and hullabaloo, how did they choose to position themselves for stardom? Rather than writing a primer with Rubin on “beards getting it done” or consulting for Ross Jeffries on seduction tactics for Southern girls (write her a sweet song and call her pretty. Duh.), the notoriously hirsute brothers in their modest “aw, shucks” manner released a sequel to 2006’s EP of low-key acoustic ruminations, The Gleam.

In a recent interview, Scott Avett remarked on how he will likely look back most fondly on these changing times in their career. Whether prescient or precocious, The Second Gleam EP reflects this notion.

Forgoing the assistance of bassist Bob Crawford and touring cellist Joe Kwon, Scott and brother Seth use their last recording for the Ramseur label to introduce six tender melodies (eight on vinyl) to whet the appetite of longtime fans. Beginning with opening track, “Tear Down the House,” The Second Gleam is the most serious affair of the Avetts’ catalogue and seems to portend the gravity of the emotions felt about their future. The song cycle of quiet reflections is redolent with hushed picking that intimates the ambivalence and guarded optimism about their changing personas and reconciles their fears with vulnerable affirmations of love and truth.

Scott’s “Murdered in the City”, a concert staple, is underscored with light piano flourishes that enhance the song’s allegory, the sworn bonds of family and honor. Seth’s “Bella Donna,” intimate and rarely performed live, begs the wistful contemplation of a lover’s feelings and sets the tone for the responding “The Greatest Sum,” a homespun soliloquy of destiny and devotion. “St. Joseph’s,” with its staggered chorus, sings a nostalgic praise of a relationship weathering sickness and health, while “Souls Like the Wheels” sews up the earnest theme of love and understanding as the touchstones for growth and humility in an unpredictable world.

Absent the anachronistic instrumentation, flair, and theatrical hallmarks of the Avett brand, The Second Gleam won’t quite grab new listeners by the hair so much as their live show does, but it proves that at this point the prolific Avett Brothers are on a creative roll, churning out beautifully crafted tunes seemingly effortlessly. And add to that the fact that Rick Rubin has been known to polish a turd or two in the studio over the years, so imagine what he could do with nuggets like these.

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