Whenever a band moves from a niche concern to an act with genuine mass appeal, often courtesy of a move to a major label, those who were there since the beginning are often up in arms. Why our band? Why now? Why Rick Rubin? And when it was announced, back in 2008, that the co-head of Columbia – producer for the likes of Slayer, Metallica, Beastie Boys and Johnny Cash – was to work with North Carolina country-folksters The Avett Brothers, the outcry was predictable. What was not: the end results of said collaboration. Needless to say, any initial protests were soon subdued, misled mutterings consigned to memory.
This is an album of surprising tenderness, of intricate (and, importantly, memorable) melodies and deep emotions, and everyman ruminations on love and life that will surely connect with long-standing fans and newcomers alike. Not that The Avett Brothers haven’t opened themselves up before – 2007’s Emotionalism is an accomplished exercise in catharsis of the heart – but here they let their music settle into more of a background role, lyrics taking centre stage. The affect is instant, the aim to pronounce each syllable with absolute clarity, to an almost spoken-word extent at times, paying immediate dividends. On the opening title-track we’re exposed to an essay on those three, so hard-to-say words – never condescending, it’s a heartfelt paean to the ultimate admission of one’s feelings. The marvellous Head Full of Doubt… continues the theme, expressing insecurities with good use of metaphor before delivering simple but effective pay-off lines, for example: “If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected.”
The group – brothers Scott and Seth, plus upright bassist Bob Crawford – maintains a relatively sombre pace across this 13-track collection. Indeed, older admirers may wonder where the up-tempo jams of albums like 2003’s A Carolina Jubilee have gone to. The only echoes of this boisterously breezy style are And It Spread and Kick Drum Heart, the latter a particularly sprightly piece that’s at complete compositional odds with the tracks that bookend it: the stripped-right-back acoustic arrangement of Ten Thousand Words, where the only additional colour comes from a delicious Hammond drone, and the similarly understated Laundry Room, as perfectly pretty as the title-track, featuring Benmont Tench on harmonium.
Though it barely breaks into a sweat, I and Love and You is the kind of record that spins by fairly swiftly – testament, truly, to the engrossing nature of the majority of its songs. It furthers its makers’ cause in the correct fashion: by expanding their oeuvre at the behest of a major, rather than recycling traits that attracted the label’s attention in the first place. --Mike Diver
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