Much has been made of Emotionalism, the 2007 release by Concord, N.C., trio The Avett Brothers, and rightly so.
It’s a brilliant collection of acoustic tunes, layered musically with various tasty nuggets echoing just about any kind of music a listener wants to hear. What emerges from these layers, however, is a distinctly original sound.
It’s not, however, so much the way the music is played — albeit with tremendous skill — or sung — soaring harmonies, heartbreaking melodies and insightful lyrics aside — as it is about the intention. Simply put, The Avett Brothers are the real deal.
Emotionalism represents the culmination of the first part of the band’s journey over the last six years from an untamed, thrilling neo-grass outfit to a fully seasoned, mature American band capable of commanding attention for more than just being wild. Do the boys themselves consider the album a departure?
“I think departure is an appropriate term,” said Scott Avett. “I also think you could exchange that word with progression. At least that’s what we hope, what we shoot for.”
The previous full-length efforts from The Avetts (Scott, brother Seth, and non-biological brother Bob Crawford on the bass) — Mignonette and Four Thieves Gone are both excellent in their own rights — are full of the brothers’ wall-of-sound harmonies and jangling acoustics, but there’s an unevenness to the recordings, and to the band, that was ironed out before they hit the studio for Emotionalism.
The band’s rising profile and rapidly expanding fan base has had something to do with that, certainly, as did a renewed sense of mission.
“It’s been very exciting,” Scott said. “It’s quite an honor and a pleasant change to go to shows where you have people welcome you with open arms, and people excited and anticipating the songs they’re going to hear. It’s something that has never really been locked in for us.
“A lot of the time we’ve almost felt like we’re campaigning,” he continued, “or trying to convince people that we have something that we want you to hear, that we feel like could be worth hearing. Now we feel like enough people agree with us, and believe in us, and that show up. That’s priceless, and it’s a beautiful size right now.”
It’s not the forthright sentiment that has been made so much of that has fed the band’s rise, nor is it the unabashed accessibility of those sentiments. It’s more a mix of the wisdom that comes from having spent as much as eight months out of each of the last six years on the road, seeing corners of the country whose names they can’t remember.
And it comes from watching their fan base grow from bars in their hometown to packed concert halls across the nation. Most of all, musically, it seems to come from a longing for home, and for love, in a world that is rapidly changing. Think Thomas Wolfe’s “You Can’t Go Home Again” transposed musically, minus the bitterness, and you understand what the yearning is that runs through Emotionalism.
“Home comes in a very different description and definition now than it did before,” Scott said. “We’re out there doing what we’re gloriously obligated to do, and when we come home, it can be alienatin