Tag Archives: banjo

Album Review – Big Daddy Love’s “This Time Around”

110114mBDLoveAlbum_GL

For Winston-Salem-based Appalachian-rock band Big Daddy Love, making an album that represents a new line-up and fresh talent meant trekking up to the magical land of Woodstock, N.Y.—a place so rich with musical history that inspiration runs in the streams and lives in the mountains.

Big Daddy Love — currently comprised of Scott Moss (vocals, guitar), Joseph Recchio (guitar, vocals), Brian Swenk (banjo), Ashley Sutton (bass, vocals), and Scotty Lewis (drums) — laid the tracks for its latest album “This Time Around” at Woodstock’s Applehead Studios earlier this year. The result is a dozen carefully crafted songs that find cohesion in hometown themes, unique and often intricate arrangements, and a keen balance across track tempo.

With Moss and Recchio as lyrical masterminds, “This Time Around” finds its niche quickly and settles in without pause. There is no time to waste, as the majority of tracks keep a high-energy pace matched by the intertwining of guitar and banjo that lend a special ferocity and fire to the album as a whole.

The album opens with “Nashville Flood,” an instant rocker with brassy horns and gospel undertones. The track swells into an ominous prediction of what happens when false dreams come crashing down. “The Colour” follows with a blues guitar intro that blends seamlessly into bluegrass banjo rolls and feels like an outlaw road trip across county lines.

“Eunice and the Bear” is a stomp clapper jam that shows the band’s storytelling side. It chronicles the life of a rambling man, his wife Eunice, and a stuffed bear head on their cabin’s wall. Lyrics paint a vivid picture of just how big a bear story can grow after years of marriage. It is a sweet and fun track with a backwoods twist.

One of the album’s longer tracks, “Kerosene,” feels like a blend of John Mellencamp and The Black Crows, low and slow blues peppered with the electric energy of guitar and a soulful church choir. Big Daddy Love steps up the backyard bonfire country vibe on “Last Night’s Dress,” a small-town boy meets girl tune that reminds listeners of the beauty and freedom of young, carefree love.

“Smoke Under the Water” is as bluegrass jam band as it gets, melding down and dirty guitar riffs with rolling, bouncy banjo and smack-you-in-the-face bass lines. There is no way to sit still during this instrumental track. “Home No More” brings in an eerie reggae-rock vibe mixed with laid back blues lyrics about being down on luck, while “Star Spangled Blues” taps into southern rock patriotism with steam engine momentum and an electric guitar solo that whines with American, feverish pride.

“Susan” downshifts to a heartfelt ballad filled with regret and unfulfilled dreams of a long lost love and untapped potential. Just when you think the pity party is going to dig deeper, “Every Other Day” slowly picks up the pieces and pace, grows a backbone and flashes its teeth. There is a revengeful quality in the supporting guitar arrangement and cool and calm, yet strong vocals.

“Silver and Pearls” is the album’s best representation of bluegrass mountain music, highlighting the speed, precision, and punch that a banjo brings to a song. The title track, “This Time Around,” brings the album to a close with beautiful acoustic instrumentation and reflective lyrics. Stripping the song down to bare bones reveals the true talent of a band that can step away from busy and thematic arrangements to successfully deliver a simple message to the listener with humility and thoughtfulness.

The melding of rock and blues throughout the album gives it a throwback quality that speaks to the band’s elevated musicianship, while still feeling fresh and current. The banjo plays an important and consistent role across the tracks, but never seems to shine in quite the same glory as the electric guitar. Though the Appalachian roots are present, the grit of good ol’ southern rock and belly fire of the blues reign supreme on “This Time Around.”

To check out “This Time Around” and keep up with Big Daddy Love’s non-stop tour schedule, visit the band’s website at bigdaddylove.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Music, Review

Album Reivew – The Avett Brothers’ “Magpie and the Dandelion”

Magpie_and_the_Dandelion_(The_Avett_Brothers)_cover_art

F*&k yeah, my boys are back.

~Anonymous longtime Avett fan

Sometimes you just have to be blunt about the bands you love. With The Avett Brothers’ eighth studio album out today, Magpie and the Dandelion, brothers Scott and Seth Avett kick the dirt off of their roots and plant a new crop of songs that are fixin’ to take full bloom.

Collectively, Magpie and the Dandelion is a polished throwback that is stripped of cumbersome instrumentation and soundboard tricks, while still maintaining the clean studio sound that comes with a Rick Rubin production–a winning combination. Perhaps Rubin finally decided to step back and let the boys do what they do best–make music.

While this may be the case, it was surprising to learn that Magpie and the Dandelion was recorded around the same time that The Avett Brothers recorded last year’s album, The Carpenter.  Side-by-side these albums feel very different. The Carpenter walks the line between grand themes of life and death, while Magpie and the Dandelion returns to the intimate storytelling that has served the brothers well from their humble beginnings.

“Pack the old love letters up. We will read them when we forget why we left here.

The Avetts aren’t strangers to a brutally honest and moving love letter.  They’ve laid out their fears and feelings for listeners several times before in songs like “November Blue,” “If It’s The Beaches,” “My Last Song to Jenny,” and basically every song in the “Pretty Girl” series.

When these earlier songs were written the boys were bushwhacking their way through the early phases of love, often in an emotionally fervent state. Conversely, the songs on Magpie and the Dandelion reveal that the Avetts have moved on to a new, more complicated chapter of love–one that has been forced to withstand the hardships of life on the road, the struggles of caring for a sick child, and the possibility of growing old alone.

There is an authenticity that comes with bearing one’s soul for the world to see—laying out the mistakes, the doubts, the fears.  This album continues to propel the story of a band of brothers who have been in the game for over a decade.   Now they look back on where they have been, wonder what they may have done differently, and hope to find answers beyond the bright lights of fame.

Put the sketches and the notes in the box labeled ‘Burn With Furniture’

The album opens with “Open Ended Life,” a southern rock barn-burner packed with punchy banjo, electric guitar solos, a feverish fiddle, and the bluesy whine of G. Love’s harmonica.  As if denouncing “If It’s The Beaches,” the boys light fire to their past–love letters and all–watch in the rear-view mirror as it burns to the ground, and speed away in an old beat-up truck.  This track is pure bonfire, beer-drinking, hoot and holler fun, straight from the hills of North Carolina.

It’s alright if you finally stop caring, just don’t go and tell someone that does.

On “Morning Song” the mood becomes more introspective and the instrumentation simplified.  Piano and drums round out the sound as Scott and Seth sing of the reality that accompanies embarking on life’s journeys alone.  The harmonies alone will cut you to the core.  With the song’s closing chorus, the listener is flooded with overwhelming emotion, as the beautiful voices of Avett family members sing, “I have to find that melody alone.” “Morning Song” evokes feelings of hope despite despair, and will surely be added to the canon of outstanding folk-ballads that have come from the minds and hearts of these men.

Whoa oh whoa.

The Avetts are masters of bending and blending genres.  On “Never Been Alive,” Seth manages to layer Pink Floyd’s dreamy “Speak to Me/Breathe” with a Sam Cooke vocal cadence.  This combination yields a deliberately subdued ballad that feels trippy, but sluggish at times.  Though “Never Been Alive” has been road tested for several years, it remains an underdog, perhaps having not yet reached its full potential.

Let me see your skeleton, well before your life is done.

The album’s first single “Another is Waiting” is definitely the most radio friendly folk-pop track of the collection.  Full of rambling banjo runs and tight drum lines, “Another is Waiting” speaks to the dangers of any industry that chews up and spits out protégés with little regard.  This track’s positive message is sure to translate over radio airwaves to young, impressionable listeners worldwide.

Bring your love to me. I will hold it like a dandelion.

During a songwriter’s session at the Newport Folk Festival, Seth was asked how he decides what becomes an Avett Brother song versus a Darling song.  With a thoughtful pause, he replied, “I have to actively answer that question every time an idea comes up.  I can’t say that I always know, because a lot of times I am surprised at what makes sense for us to present together.  But, the Darling songs that end up just becoming Darling songs, they look to me the same way that Scott’s paintings do, as far as this is a singular vision.”

In listening to “Bring Your Love To Me,” it appears that perhaps a Darling song slipped into the pile of 30-plus songs that the band initially brought to Rubin.  Hearing fingertips sliding on tinny strings, Seth’s pleading promise to protect a fragile love, and the warm tones of intermittent hums offers fans a little glimpse into what can be expected on the fourth Darling installment.

I want to be there for you, and when I come home will you still want me to?

Did someone say “Norwegian Wood?” It’s not the first time that Beatles have found their way into an Avett Brothers’ song.  Musical influences unconsciously shape the sound of every band, but what makes “Good To You” unique is that it is a heart-wrenching, honest and emotionally transparent personal account that could have only come from this band.  On this piano lullaby, Scott and bassist Bob Crawford share intentions and fears with their families, in light of the fact that their time away from home may come with sobering consequences.

Part from me, I would not dare take someone in love with me where I’m going.

“Apart From Me” stands alone as the album’s most jaw-dropping ballad.  The songwriting on this track matches that of “Murder in the City,” raw, powerful, and thought-provoking.  Scott’s voice tears through the listener’s soul, as his gritty exterior crumbles under the weight of past decisions.  Looking back on the pursuit of his dreams, Scott seems to question the path he led his family down over the course of his career.  Seth’s delicate finger-picking balances the harsh reality of Scott’s words and the listener is left peering into the wilted spirit of this woeful artist.

How long can you live in shame and drop a lifelong curse on your own last name?

Thematically in line with “Good To You” and “Apart From Me,” “Skin and Bones” picks up the pace as the Avetts weigh the pros and cons of the famed artist’s life on the road.  There is an irony that emerges as lyrics speak of the “beast” that drives the band down the road farther away from home.

This “beast” has reared its ugly head before, particularly when Scott has discussed how he struggles to find balance between his artistic passion and everyday obligations.  At his most recent art talk, Scott explained, “Artists are put on this planet to do…three things.  [Ruskin] says we are here to see, and to feel, and to document.  The artist can try to think, but he’s not here to do that.  He can try to explain and analyze, but he’s not here to do that.  He can go to parties but he’s not here to party.  He can’t.  He really can’t…As soon as he feels something he has to act on it and move on it.”  With lyrics like “It’s the tin and the board that keeps me going home, but it’s who I am that won’t let me alone,” it appears almost impossible to tame the artist’s inner beast, thus the push and pull carries on.

Bring me light from where I thought it was dark. Be the spark that has a chance to light a candle.”

“Souls Like The Wheels” is a welcomed live addition to this studio album.  Originally released as a studio track on The Second Gleam in 2008, this live version of “Souls Like The Wheels” features Seth, his guitar, and an amazed audience at The Fabulous Fox Theater in St. Louis, MO last year.  Even with the occasional hoot and holler from those fans you’d like to punch for making noise during ballads (in particular the girls who scream “We love you Seth!”…seriously if you are one of those girls, please just stop), this version evokes images of Seth and his HD-35 at the front of the stage in the warm glowing embrace of the spotlight.  These are the moments when fans know they are witnessing greatness.

I’ve got love pouring out of my veins, but it’s all vanity.

No Avett ablum would be complete without one of Seth’s face-melting electric guitar solos.  On “Vanity,” Seth and Scott trade verses, and tackle the ugly truth that underpins our words and actions. Recently, Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell joined the band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to put his own rock-god spin on the song, proving that he’s still got the chops that served him so well in the 90s.  “Vanity” stands alone in its rock-ballad style, while still contributing to the album as a whole.

I will seek the approval of no one but you, in love for the changes I take.

Magpie and the Dandelion closes with “The Clearness Is Gone,” a waltz-ballad previously released as a bonus track on The Carpenter.  The Avetts plug in and offer listeners a strong finish to an album that chronicles the band’s journey.  Though the band forges ahead into the bright lights, “The Clearness is Gone” contains muted hints of “Oh What a Nightmare.”  Perhaps this nod to their former-selves serves as a subtle message to their fans that have started to question the band’s direction.  Those fans should trust that deep down inside of these men, there is a screaming Avett just waiting to go berserk, melt into the stage and then dive into a sea of sweaty fans.

We won’t waste a long goodbye on the smoke or foolish lies that finally passed us.

Magpie and the Dandelion just feels like home.  It successfully bridges the gap between the fan who boasts about being among a handful of people at the 2007 Plan 9 Emotionalism record release show and the fan who first experienced the life-altering sound of Avett harmonies on Bonnaroo’s main stage in 2012.  The album features more banjo for the bluegrass-loving fans, top-notch songwriting for the lyric-hungry fans, electric guitar riffs for old Nemo fans, and a thoughtful musical progression and growth for the fans that actually appreciate watching these talented men mature and fight to feel comfortable in their own skin.  Today, a collective exhale and “thank you” can be heard across the spectrum of Avett fans as they sit down and take in the phenomenal work that is Magpie and the Dandelion.

**For fans that can’t get enough of The Avett Brothers, there is a deluxe Target-exclusive version of Magpie and the Dandelion that includes six unreleased demos off of the album**

5 Comments

Filed under Music, Review

Album Review: The Carpenter

We’ve changed a lot, and no one here can stop that train before it gets to where it’s going

These lyrics resonate with me each time I listen to The Avett Brothers’ new album, The Carpenter. While there are certainly collections of lyrical lessons nestled in all twelve of the album’s new songs, these particular lyrics from I Never Knew You serve as a shot of reality to fans, both old and new. The band, made up of brothers Scott and Seth Avett, bassist Bob Crawford, and touring members cellist Joseph Kwon and drummer Jacob Edwards, is sending a pretty clear message that they are a forward-moving, well-oiled, meticulously crafted machine that shows no sign of pumping the breaks anytime soon–not even for their fans who are waiting at the “I Want More Banjo Station” screaming, “Hey, what about us!?” Didn’t Ill With Want teach you all anything?

Sure, The Carpenter has a more produced sound (um, it’s a studio album), and yes it may teeter on the cusp of mainstream pop music with an Americana twist, but so what!? Music is made to move the listener, to evoke emotion and thought, and that is what The Avett Brothers do best–banjo or no banjo. If the album moves you to tears, laughter, love, goosebumps, or overwhelming joy, well then stay on board and enjoy the ride. If you start to experience motion sickness, please feel free to get off at the next stop and find a different destination, because this Avett train is movin’ on.

For me, listening to The Carpenter is kind of like taking that train ride through the countryside–a thought-provoking experience of varying landscapes for the senses and soul. The brothers Avett, a charming pair of musical vagabonds who never seem quite comfortable sitting still, take listeners on a journey down the path of self-discovery. While they have left deep, muddy bootprints in all corners of the US, their mode of exploration goes well beyond planes, trains, and automobiles, so much so that they spent nearly three years in the trenches mucking through their own very private experiences–both joyous and sobering–in order to put this album together.

The Carpenter certainly maintains a common theme we have seen from the Avetts over the past decade–man searching for meaning through the passing seasons. The opening track, Once and Future Carpenter, stays true to this theme as it portrays the travels of “a poet young and hungry” on the eternal path for purpose. Imagery of spinning slot machines accompanied by lyrics like “sometimes I hit/sometimes it robs me blind” remind listeners that while life’s just one big crap shoot, we have to take risks and make the best of the hand we are dealt.

Although Live and Die is the only banjo-heavy song on the album, I predict some disappointment from fans who covet that gritty punk-bluegrass Avett sound of past albums and live shows. Instead, Live and Die delivers a much more radio-friendly pop sound, and showcases a delicate and happy side of the banjo. This catchy tune is like a big ol’ mason jar full of NC honey, dripping with the sweetness that is Mr. Seth Avett. It doesn’t get any sweeter than this folks. It is a fun and joyful song that I will undoubtedly be singing in and around the house for weeks to come.

Winter in my Heart takes a somber turn as the band openly shares their woes with depression. A poignant admission of falling victim to the black veil of depression, this song will hit home for fans who have experienced their own feelings of hopelessness and despair. The brightest light in this dark song is Kwon’s hauntingly beautiful performance on the cello, which is further elevated by the eery cries of the musical saw (side note: whoever came up with the idea to use the musical saw on an album titled The Carpenter deserves his own Grammy. Seriously, that is genius!). Overall, Kwon adds breathtaking dimension to this already multifaceted cast of characters, and continues to solidify the authenticity and uniqueness of The Avett Brothers.

On a rejuvenated February Seven Avett country charm resurfaces with crisp guitar picking and clean vocals. This song feels like throwback Avett–a simple song with strong and honest lyrics, much like the songs of the musical legends that paved the way for them. Through My Prayers speaks to the heavy regret and sorrow that comes with missing the chance to tell someone you care. Here, Seth shares the story of a painful lesson learned and implores others to show the love in their hearts before it’s too late–no message could be more chilling and appropriate as this on the 11th anniversary of 9-11.

The Avetts take a brief departure from their traditional acoustic sound, and give a slight nod to their Nemo and Oh What a Nightmare roots by bringing out the electric guitar for a few face-melting riffs on songs like Geraldine and Paul Newman vs. The Demons. Paul Newman vs. The Demons offers a new twist on an old theme–not learning from past mistakes (think Distraction #74)–but this time with a very different sound that tends to distract from the album’s cadence. On a positive note, the song does evoke quite vivid Labyrinth-esque images of Seth falling down a dark rabbit hole while being grabbed at by his demons on the way down, only to find Paul Newman there to save him in the end. Seriously, in my mind this has already translated into the most amazing Crackerfarm video. Nevertheless, it will be interesting and exciting to see how this song matures and holds up on stage. Additionally, Pretty Girl from Michigan gets plugged in and ends up as one of the best songs on the album. This song has been a longstanding fan-favorite, so it is nice to see such a smooth transition from the road to the studio.

The infamous banjo returns on Down With The Shine, alongside a horns section that brings in some dirty Bourbon Street undertones. Although this song has been floating around for a few years, it made its first “national” debut on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts and has been evolving ever since. More recently the live version has turned into something of a big top waltz with Scott acting as the dramatic ring leader. While this album version is masterfully layered with rich instrumentation, it unfortunately feels bogged down and sluggish in comparison to the live version. Herein lies the magic that is the ever-changing nature of Avett Brothers songs, and also why I don’t put too much stock into the initial “feel” of the album versions of their songs. Inevitably, the live variations of these songs will continue to move audiences and strengthen their already loyal fan base. Fear not weary, doubtful fans, it will be alright.

Deep beneath the mountains of depression, loss, and turbulence that drives the album, emerges a true gem that immediately beams with light. A Father’s First Spring shines brightly in all its glory as Scott shares the overwhelming feelings that accompanied the birth of his first child, Eleanor. To say that this song will move you to tears is an understatement (think Murder in the City, Part 2). Though simple, the lyrics “I was a child before/the day that I met Eleanor” reveal a complex evolution of character. Scott’s mastery of song and story allows him to speak on life’s purest love–that of a parent for his child–and evoke the deepest of emotions, even in listeners who have yet to experience parenthood. This track is a pure nugget of gold–a special gift from a proud daddy to his daughter, all in the name of posterity (of course).

The album closes with Life, which highlights the fragility of our time here on Earth. Themes of faith and love are intricately woven through the song in true Avett fashion. The beauty of this song lies in its simple message to live with intention and keep those you love close, for “we’re not of this world for long”. As the end of the musical journey approaches, Life leaves me with a feeling of hope, promise, and empowerment.

Overall, The Carpenter proves to be a cohesive collection of songs that gives fans a glimpse into the maturing hearts and minds of men who strive to find deeper meaning and purpose in life. The album succeeds in balancing themes of life and death–good and evil–and opens the door to further discovery and evolution. What it may lack in raw energy, it certainly makes up for with raw emotion, like a wound left open for all the world to see. This album bears the souls of a band of brothers who have been up against some very serious life changing events, yet in their transparency fans are afforded the opportunity to listen, relate, heal, and push on to a new day.

The Carpenter, which was officially released today, is available on iTunes and exclusively at Target with bonus tracks* (*Standing With You and Die Then Grow are wonderful additions to the album, and will ease some of the longing for that old Avett sound).

8 Comments

Filed under Music, Review