Review: Avett Brothers – Emotionalism

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Label: Ramseur Records

Released: March 15, 2007

Americana’s return to the distant roots of rock music can be both a strength and a limitation. The genre often taps into the stripped down honesty of early music, but is also limited in its influences. The Avett Brothers, however, capture the genre’s strengths without being held to its limitations.

The band, Scott and Seth Avett on banjo/kick drum and guitar/high-hat respectively, and Bob Crawford on bass, along with a variety of guests, stick to traditional string band instrumentation and that both keeps their sound rooted in tradition and makes their broad sound more surprising.

While “Shame,” one of the album’s strongest songs, largely fits the traditional mold, it’s the Avetts’ ability to add a pop hook that is the cream rising to the top. They stray even farther from the old-time, down-home sound as they dabble in cabaret on “Paranoia in Bb Major” and Latin music on “Pretty Girl form Chile.” They nearly cover “All My Loving” with “Will You Return,” but that very Beatlesque charm pops up throughout the album in less obvious ways.

Because the arrangements are so traditional, Emotionalism never crosses the line into the ridiculous despite its boldness. The vocals in particular have a charming imperfection, adding both color and warmth. Instead of being sold on itself, the album remains down to earth, allowing low-key tunes like “The Ballad of Love and Hate” to speak directly to the listener, like a friendship rather than a performance. The Avetts’ ability be simultaneously rooted in tradition and stretching their legs with eclecticism allows them to translate genre-specific work into broad appeal.

Rating: 9/10

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About bobvinyl

bobvinyl, writer and co-editor of No Song is an Island, founded its predecessor, Rock and Roll and Meandering Nonsense (whose archives are found here), in 2005 and served as editor and principal contributor until it went on hiatus in 2010. He has also been published in AMP and Loud Fast Rules! (in print) as well as Glide and FensePost on the web. He has been an avid record collector since he was seven years old and enjoys sharing his love of music from the common to the esoteric.

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