Down-home soul music

For The Avett Brothers, 2007 was a very good year.

“[2007] was our biggest year,” says Seth Avett, who, along with his brother Scott and bassist Bob Crawford, comprise the Concord, N.C., trio. “It’s something that we are very proud of, for sure.”

The group’s success has been fueled by a seemingly never-ending touring cycle and the buzz generated by their sweaty, high-energy live performances. The trio has become an overnight sensation, albeit one that was six years in the making.

A Carolina jubilee: They may not look too excited about it in this promo photo, but The Avett Brothers are just a few days away from wrapping up their best year ever. From left: Seth Avett, Scott Avett and Bob Crawford.

The past 12 months have seen the Avett Brothers perform at the Coachella Music Festival, appear on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and make their first tour of Europe. But the biggest jewel in the band’s collective crown for this year was no doubt the release of Emotionalism, an album so alarmingly original that even the most hardened of music writers sat up and took notice.

The album sums up the Avett Brothers’ goals in a nutshell: They want to win over audiences no matter what, but they aren’t going to compromise one bit to do so. If that means playing a bittersweet, bluegrass-tinted country tune with all the fury of a punk band, so be it. Far from being off-putting, this approach has won the band a loyal following across the country.

“I think why people have attached to us is because they feel a connection to the music,” offers Seth Avett. “I feel like our music is a true thing, and when something’s true you grab hold of it tight. On some level our songs are very normal, and our themes are normal. The people that get so excited about our music are people that find a song that has a theme that is relevant to their lives.”

Those heartfelt themes are better stated on Emotionalism than in most of the songs that can be heard on the radio today. In an age where irony rules the FM dial, the Avett Brothers are bringing a raw and honest sound to their listeners. They’re doing it not with electric guitars and fire-breathing antics, but with the same, simple tools common to many bluegrass trios—a banjo, an acoustic guitar and an upright bass.

Of course there’s something less tangible in the sound, too—a belief in the power of music. Call it old-time music mixed with that old-time religion, or down-on-the-farm meets downtown. To me, it’s down-home soul music.

While “soul music” may be a strange way to describe the Avett Brothers, whose music is closer to Sam Bush than Sam Cooke, there’s a common thread that ties it all together.

“There may be a certain aspect to music or feeling that some would call soul,” Avett muses. “Some call it feeling, and some call it vulnerability. The music I connect to is music where I believe the artist. It has to be something real for the people presenting it. If they believe it, it’s going to come through.”

The band is already working on a follow-up release to Emotionalism, and has plans for another extensive tour in 2008. But, according to Avett, they also have bigger, more open-ended goals in mind.

“I want to create music that people will be listening to long after I’m gone, like The Beatles or Led Zeppelin,” he says, without a hint of ego in his voice. “We are only in this world for a short time, and I think that our music can live on if it’s real and true.”

That may seem like a bold statement and a lofty aspiration, but it’s just that kind of creative hunger that gets the fans abuzz and the critics in a tizzy. What’s more, the Avett Brothers hold steady to the idea that the musical truth shall set them free.

“It’s like if someone who loves you cooks you food,” he adds. “It’s going to come through in the food when you eat it.”

If the same holds true for music, then audiences should pull up a chair to the Avett Brothers’ table and prepare to enjoy a most satisfying treat.

[Jason Bugg is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]


who: The Avett Brothers with Langhorne Slim
what: High-octane, emotionally charged country rock
where: Orange Peel
when: Friday and Saturday, Dec. 28 and 29 (9 p.m. $25). www.theorangepeel.net or 225-5851

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