Avett Brothers, 'The Carpenter'
By Steve Slagg
September 13, 2012
In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Scott Avett alluded to the personal joys and tragedies that fueled the songwriting process for his band's new album The Carpenter, saying, "I don't know that we ever understood life or death as well as we do now."
Makes sense. In the last five years, on top of the band's signing to a major label and performing with Bob Dylan at the Grammys, Scott's brother/co-bandleader, Seth, has gotten married, and Scott and his wife have had two children. Meanwhile, though, bassist Bob Crawford has alternated between touring and life in the hospital, as his young daughter receives treatment for brain cancer.
The Carpenter's best songs are in its introverted second half, and these songs capture the fullness and conflicting emotions of such a time with plainspoken grace. In "A Father's First Spring," Scott Avett breaks the first rule of songwriting by writing about the birth of his child. Good thing, though—it might be the best song on the album, juxtaposing the sentimentality ("I have been homesick for you since the day that we met") with the rawness ("the blood on the floor and the love in your yell") of fatherhood. "Through My Prayers" will be instantly relatable to anyone who has lost a loved one with unresolved words between them. These two songs feel like gifts—invitations into a deeply personal conversation.
I and Love and You was criticized, probably rightly, for its sentimentality and, er, emotionalism. The Carpenter is definitely a better album—it has fewer moments of catharsis, and more of them feel earned. It's far from perfect, but all Avett Brothers albums are. They're a band that favors generosity over editorial precision, which means I usually find myself referring to favorite songs instead of favorite albums.