The Avett Brothers should be huge. Huge, I tell you. Not because cynical Love Monkey-types have injected major-label cash into their veins, or because taste-making indie-jerk Web sites have decided to make them their cause du jour (though this is a start). The North Carolinian trio should be huge because of this simple fact: the members write great songs. Songs that are honest and pure, that range the full spectrum of human emotion, that can be backed up with a killer live show.
The Avett Brothers’ rural roots factor heavily into their choice of instrumentation (banjo, acoustic guitar, upright bass) and certainly have something to do with the twang-factor of the vocals, but labeling them “country” (or worse, “alternative country”) is a bit lazy, like glancing at a photo of TV on the Radio and deciding they’re hip-hop. Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions is more rock than anything else, boasting an intensity that is all more the more remarkable considering the lack of a drummer and electric amplification. The album’s seventeen songs range from bittersweet ballads of love and loss (“Famous Flower of Manhattan,” “The Lowering”) to booze-soaked sing-alongs (“Dancing Days”) to ragged up-tempo foot-stompers that threaten to career off of the tracks at any moment (“Talk on Indolence,” Matrimony”).
What holds this sprawling mess of an album together is an overriding feeling of honesty and a total lack of self-consciousness. This results, most likely, from the fact that the two principal songwriters are brothers. If they’re anything like me and my brothers, the Avetts passed the time growing up by farting on one another, so they’ve got nothing to hide. Recorded in a cabin over eleven days, the album sounds more like a result of spontaneous combustion than an outright attempt to cater to the masses. This is all the more remarkable because Four Thieves Gone is bursting at the seams with tracks that could connect with a wider audience. No song exhibits this potential more than “Sixteen in July,” which wistfully recalls the euphoria that comes with finally getting access to an automobile. Who, outside of native New Yorkers and the physically handicapped, can’t relate to that?
Sure, seventeen songs may be a bit much, and the rehearsal-session detritus tacked on to the end of the record is unnecessary and self-indulgent, but it may be hard to find a more universally likable record than Four Thieves Gone in 2006. It’s rewarding to come across a band such as the Avett Brothers, which is a much-needed reminder to stop thinking so much, to stop being so goddamn pretentious and just let loose. “Colorshow,” a stomping, cathartic sing-along, is easily my favorite song of this young year, the sort of tune that brings you back to high school, that re-awakens the desire to pump your fist to the lyrics and scream (“Be loud, let your colors show!”), too caught up in the immediacy of the moment to be self-conscious or ironic. The music world needs a lot more of that right now, and the Avett Brothers can deliver it.
That’s why they should be huge. Get your veins ready, boys, because sooner or later the Love Monkey-types will be coming with a jumbo-sized syringe of major-label cash. Hey, you’ve earned it.
Ramseur Records Web site