The Avett Brothers have always been known for writing lyrics which their fans can relate to, and their sixth album I and Love and You does not disappoint. Their folk and bluegrass influenced music provokes raw emotion; it can excite you, make you happy or sad, inspire you, and so much more. For example, the opening track and namesake for the album itself evokes such a feeling of need: to breakout and break through struggle, to start a new life, and to grow, a feeling which is universally relatable. From slower ballads like ‘I and Love and You’ and ‘Ill with Want’ to the upbeat and fast-paced ‘Kick Drum Heart,’ this album gives both old and new Avett Brothers fans everything they could ask for in their 2009 major label breakthrough.
With their previous five albums being produced by a small label, many fans were nervous for this album as it was their first made by multimillion dollar producer Rick Rubin. However, in my opinion, the brothers have stayed true to their music and to their roots and any changes in their music simply reflect normal artistic growth. The album cover itself shows that they have not sold out to corporate influences, as it is one of Scott Avett’s original paintings. Not everyone has a similar opinion though. In 2012, after I and Love and You’s follow up The Carpenter was released, Scott spoke about those who haven’t liked this evolution saying: “We’re in a movement. We’re in motion, an ongoing journey that has to change… It can’t sit still or it ends.” (Dukes 2012) No matter your opinion on the development of the band as a whole, it is undeniable that the brothers have stayed true to their lyrics; songs like ‘January Wedding’ and ‘Slight Figure of Speech’ show that Scott and Seth Avett still write relatable lyrics that are inspired by their own lives. This becomes apparent in ‘Slight Figure of Speech’ when Scott sings “they say don’t take your business to the big time, I bought us tickets there,” referring to I and Love and You being the band’s major debut with Rick Rubin and his label American Records.
Despite the obvious importance of the lyrics, the music itself is just as influential. Scott and Seth are joined by Joe Kwon and Bob Crawford, forming a quartet with vast musical abilities. With the brothers bringing the vocals, banjo, guitar, mandolin, piano, and more; Crawford on the bass; and Kwon with the cello; these four bring so much to the table. However, with the big record deal that created I and Love and You and the small group of four unable to cover every base during studio sessions with Rick Rubin, more musicians were added into the mix for the recording of the album. Yet, it is still important to point out that “though I and Love and You indeed augments the Avett’s atavistic charms with an array of chamber rock accompaniment like strings, tuba and piano, the quartet mostly charms and maddens in the same ways it always has.” (Currin September 2009) To me, this album truly shows a wonderful combination and compromise of the goals of both the band and Rubin and his American label, all while staying true to the brothers’ roots and to their fans.
Being a brother band from Concord, North Carolina, there are some things that seem innately “Appalachian” about the brothers. Though they may not have grown up in the mountains, they did grow up on a small North Carolina farm and are no strangers to the mountains and their music in the western part of the state. In fact, some of their influences include great Appalachian musicians like Doc Watson. Seth describes some of their earliest and most important influences as “American roots music – and especially bluegrass and classic country… It just felt so natural to play an acoustic guitar and a banjo on the front porch.” (Rolling Stone 2009) These influences, many of which fall under the umbrella of Appalachian music, show in their personal style of music which consists of many ballads and has the use of the banjo, bass, mandolin, and even the fiddle prevalent in nearly all of their songs.
Additionally, it is important to note that the stories contained in each song are told by men who seem down-to-earth, men who you can tell have actually experienced these things that you may be struggling with in your day-to- day life. Moreover, they haven’t let the business side of music change them, in an interview Scott even says that “they just see it as necessity… far from the director,” and Seth adds that they still try to handle it all themselves. (The Grammys 2012) This adds a certain sense of reality to these people, who are really just making a living doing what they love. To me, the approachability of the brothers themselves is just as important as anything, adding so much accessibility to the band that not many artists can boast in this day and age.
Nevertheless, it is the lyrics and the stories that they tell which hold the real impact of an Avett Brothers song. It is these words that people recognize and connect to; I myself know nearly every word to the thirteen tracks on I and Love and You. The band has a great ability to tell stories that mean different things to different people across the globe, stories of spreading the love, going through struggle, becoming successful, and more. While these songs may be popular with people from all types of backgrounds, there are certain ones that I feel could be especially appealing to those from the Appalachian region.
While they may not mention specific places in their songs, some of the feelings that come across in the Avett Brothers’ music can echo feelings that may be felt throughout Appalachia. One example is ‘Ten Thousand Words,’ a song about judging prematurely and without knowing all the facts, something that those from the southern mountains are very familiar with. Yet another ballad that falls under this category is ‘The Perfect Space.’ Personally, I think this song is about trying to find a sense of community and belonging in a world where being accepted is not always easy. That feeling in the song could particularly call to southern mountaineers who might find it tough to adjust into a society outside of their home. These feelings, among many others, that come across on this album may especially resonate with Appalachian people, but there are some instances of more specific lyrics which build a more definite sense of the region.
One of these more specific examples of a song that really stuck out to me is ‘Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise.’ This is a song about getting rid of the bad thoughts, overcoming self-doubt, and following your dreams. There is one particular line that stands out to me, “when nothing is owed or deserved or expected, and your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected, if you’re loved by someone you’re never rejected, decide what to be and go be it.” Throughout history outsiders have looked at Appalachia as full of “untouched wilderness, poor white backward hillbillies.” (Biggers XIII) Due to these stereotypes surrounding Appalachia, people often expect very little from those hailing from the region. Furthermore, it seems that even when new government officials are elected no one tries to reach out to relieve poverty in the southern mountains, even in times of dire need. With the Avett Brothers having grown up near the region, this line could speak to its complicated past. Despite all of this struggle and negativity, the song goes on to remind listeners that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, you will always have someone who loves and accepts you and anything can be done if you set your mind to it. In my opinion, this line and this whole song could really resonate with people from Appalachia who have struggled to break free of the stereotypes that have plagued their homes for years. For me, it is songs like this that show the band’s connection to the southern mountains, regardless of whether they grew up there or not.
I and Love and You is yet another success that the Avett Brothers can put under their belt. Whether it is someone from Appalachia who is listening or someone from the other side of the country, almost anyone can find meaning and solace in at least one of these songs. The instrumentation stayed true to their roots, and the brothers themselves have as well. “They are a reality in a world of entertainment built with smoke and mirrors, and when they play, the common man can break the mirrors and blow the smoke away, so that all that’s left behind is the unwavering beauty of the songs.” (MTV) This is the real appeal of The Avett Brothers, and this was not lost in their debut with American records. They are still the same band with the natural ability to write songs that everyday people can listen to and relate to, without any of the impact on their music that some other artists experience when making it to the big time.
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Biggers, Jeff. The United States of Appalachia: How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture, and Enlightenment to America. Emeryville, CA: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2006. Print.
Currin, Grayson Haver. “INTERVIEW: The Avett Brothers Reveal New Details about Rick Rubin-helmed Album.” Indy Week. Indy Week, 2 Apr. 2009. Web. 26 July 2016.
Currin, Grayson Haver. “The Avett Brothers’ I and Love and You,” Indy Week. Indy Week, 30 Sept. 2009. Web. 26 July 2016.
Dukes, Billy. “Avett Brothers Interview: Scott Explores Emotions in Songs on ‘The Carpenter,’ Shares Mainstream Country Influences.” Taste of Country. N.p., 13 Sept. 2012. Web. 26 July 2016.
Straw, Richard Alan., and Tyler Blethen. High Mountains Rising: Appalachia in Time and Place. Urbana: U of Illinois, 2004. Print.
“The Avett Brothers Bio | The Avett Brothers Career.” MTV Artists. MTV, n.d. Web. 29 July 2016.
“5 Questions with The Avett Brothers.” The Grammys. The Grammys, 2012. Web. 27 July 2016.