Are the Avett Brothers the Next Big Thing? They certainly bring formidable weapons to the sweepstakes. The Avetts, guitarist Seth and banjoist Scott, are two sweet-singing, super-handsome bros who harmonize on idiosyncratic, soulful folk songs about love and family and connection, the kinds of tunes that inspire lots of linked arms and swaying heads from their fiercely-devoted fans. Signs at Avett Brothers shows often read “Avett Nation”, which feels accurate enough when the crowds of plaid-clad grad students dig deep and sing along in ecstatic unison. The North Carolina band, rounded out by bassist Bob Crawford and touring cellist Joe Kwon, have built up quite a head of steam lately, releasing the well-received Emotionalism in 2007 and the Gleam II EP last year, which marked the boys’ strongest songs yet (and some sweet beards—Seth was looking pretty Pennsylvania Dutch there for awhile). It’s no wonder that the Avetts caught the attention of Rick Rubin, who signed the band to his Columbia/American imprint and produced their new major-label debut, I and Love and You.
Do the Avett Brothers ever wake up feeling cranky? Mean-spirited? Less than generous? Their songs all communicate an unfailingly chummy earnestness that stems from candid introspection and unbidden love for their fellow man, and perhaps more than their brotherly harmonies or their rambunctious take on string-band Americana, that sincerity is their chief appeal. Of late, however, the Avetts' self-reckoning has grown so overbearin g that it borders on obsession and threatens to limit their musical range. I and Love and You, their sixth studio album, doesn't break from their monolithic solemnity, but actually intensifies it: The hook on "Ten Thousand Words" goes, "Ain't it like most people, I'm no different, we love to talk on things we don't know about." On "The Perfect Space", they sing in sharp harmony: "I want to have friends who love me for the man I become, not the man that I was." There's a similar potential yearbook quote in every song-- every verse, just about-- and after a while, you may begin to wish they'd get angry about something, or, god forbid, crack an ironic joke.