I like it when they scream before the cello bridge

If you knew as soon as you saw the title that this post is about the Avett Brothers, give yourself points in some music-spotting game. It’s a quote from a comment about a YouTube music video of the best kind: where the horrible sound quality doesn’t matter because of the awesome music quality.

It’s a performance of the first and title track from the new album I And Love And You. The song tells (warns?) of changes: the brothers from North Carolina plead “Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in” and announce “we are headed north… never to return.”

The album version includes an more serious unspoken warning, in that it’s piano-heavy, with no trace of banjo (as far as I could tell). I missed Scott Avett’s trademark banjo, was pleased to hear it on the album’s second track, and was disappointed not to hear much of it on the rest of the album.

Instrumentation is not the only change that comes with the new album. It’s the Avetts’ major label debut. It’s produced by Rick Rubin. Here’s PopMatters’ evaluation of the change.

Superb. I and Love and You is the Avetts’ best record yet, as Rubin has gotten hold of the Brothers at the right time, when they are peaking as songwriters and morphing into a different band, one that is realizing the limitations of their previous stage arrangement. For years, the Avett Brothers were a ramshackle trio, with Scott on banjo and kickdrum and Seth on guitar and hi-hat. The band made an impressive racket in this formation, performing blast-furnace versions of their mountain-punk rave-ups, but often the boys’ ardent vocals threatened to overwhelm the relatively thin instrumentation, and it became clear that the band needed to spread out sonically.

The band’s evolution on I and Love and You is invested heavily in the piano, around which nearly every song on the new record is based. Scott and Seth take turns on the keys, but it’s the almost-complete absence of Scott’s banjo that is most noticeable here and that long-time fans find most lamentable.

I can’t claim to be a long-time fan, having been aware of the Avett Brothers for less than a year now, I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m lamenting, but I am a little disappointed in the new album. That said, it’s very good, I’ll keep listening to it, and I hope to see the band live again.

Newport Folk Saturday

Brellas and BridgeWe did go to the Newport Folk festival yesterday. I provided a Saturday sampler playlist in a previous post. Things went better than expected in some ways, worse in others, but the good far outweighed the bad.

We arrived during Billy Bragg’s set, having made great time from Boston to Newport, and then getting stuck in traffic for the last few miles. His banter/polemic, like his music, was a mixture of the traditional and the topical (or of the trad and the fad, as we sometimes say).

Billy made the traditional remark about the people who couldn’t afford tickets, and so had to watch from their boats. Then he added some kind words about sailboats, and their eco-friendliness, but reverted to traditional with some unkind words about jet-skis.

Next up were the Avett Brothers, for me the most must-catch act on a very strong lineup. They were tremendous. My video clip doesn’t come anywhere near doing them justice, but I include it hear because it does go some way toward capturing the weather and other aspects of the setting.

Neither the video nor the photo captures how hot it was. For reasons of sun and heat and son and daughter (almost 3, and 5 respectively) and of being on our way down to Philadelphia, we missed almost all of the remaining music. That means that I caught very little of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Even worse, I completely missed acts such as Fleet Foxes, Pete Seeger, Iron & Wine, and The Decemberists. Luckily, NPR captured some of The Decemberists’ set.

Live Music Ahoy! Newport Festival Saturday

The Newport Folk Festival celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. We’ll be there on Saturday, August 1. Here’s a playlist featuring some of the acts I expect to see (and led me to favor Saturday over Sunday, despite the fact that Neko Case is playing on Sunday).

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