Friday, November 20, 2009

Heading Out with The Avett Brothers

It has been said that there are only two stories - a stranger comes to town and someone goes on a journey.

With The Avett Brothers' major label debut, I and Love and You, the boys take the latter. Actually, there are multiple journeys. The engaging album mines the familiar territory of documenting the journeys contained in romance and relationships. A topic that takes full use of the brothers' harmonies and orchestrations.

But, there is more going on here.

The album also represents the band's current journey from its North Carolina roots to a much wider audience. From its bluegrass beginnings to its new mixture of pop/alternative folk. To put it simply, less banjo, more piano and strings. And the piano is not a rootsy Garth Hudson, but more like fellow Tar Heel Ben Folds' hard-driving piano.

However, there is still a trace of the band's bluegrass background. The disc's second track, January Wedding, is a beautiful banjo stroll. But make no mistake, The Avett Brothers are no longer a bluegrass band.

A large part of this musical advancement coincides with the group's jump to Sony and the accompanying Rick Rubin production. The album is, at times, beautiful. The harmonies soar. The strings rise and fall. There is definitively a sheen with this bunch. Not much of the grittiness that helps define other hirsute harmony fanatics, such as Fleet Foxes and Blitzen Trapper.

That is not a complaint. The album has been on a steady rotation in my house for weeks and it will be there awhile.

Perhaps the best song of the album, or even in the group's burgeoning career, is the opening title track - an anthem about "heading north" (another journey!) and out into the world. The chorus is impossible to resist. Nor do you want to.

The Avett Brothers head out on the road at the beginning of the year. No Florida dates yet.

I and Love and You” by The Avett Brothers (mp3)(iTunes)(Amazon)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Nightlight Who Watches Over You

By Ian Minor

20 years ago an album came out that would later be called “a landmark release in the evolution from college rock to alternative.” The third release of rock group They Might Be Giants, Flood would give them their big hits and fame worldwide. It would also be the immortal and ever important first album for me.

It’s a little shocking that my first album came out a full two years before I was born. I first heard They Might Be Giants of a mix tape (remember those) that my uncle made. I believe the first song I heard was their mega hit Birdhouse in Your Soul. It’s hard to describe their impact they’ve had on me. It would be like describing the times before one learns to walk. There is no before TMBG, only after.

I do remember not understanding why their lyrics were so captivating, so compelling and heartfelt when they really said nothing. One lyric read “I came back as a bag of groceries accidently taken off the shelf before the date stamped on myself.” Trying to understand that is hard for a young adult like myself, so I imagine it broke my brain when I was twelve.

That’s why I think They Might Be Giants, they don’t have to worry about their message staying current. Because their is no message. Their music is timeless, which is helped that the two Johns have not aged since the mid-90s.

I went to a show of theirs not to long ago and it’s refreshing to see that no matter how giant they get, they’ll still joke and talk to the audience. True, they may be Grammy winners, but they’re not scared to bust out the sock puppets if they need to. Watching them preform one of the lesser known Flood songs, I was transported back in time, to a small club, where they had just released the album. Where they were just the musicians who had always been there for me, not stars, not one hit wonders, they were just my first band.

And it was pretty awesome.

Women & Men” by They Might Be Giants (mp3)(iTunes)(Amazon)