The Avett Brothers Bring Spirituality Down to Earth on Self-Titled Album

The touring folk titans look to the holiness of home on their 11th and understated LP.

Music Reviews The Avett Brothers
The Avett Brothers Bring Spirituality Down to Earth on Self-Titled Album

The Avett Brothers have always been poets. In the early days, when it was just brothers Scott and Seth and their self-taught bassist Bob Crawford playing sweaty bars, their performances were furious and passionate, akin to slam poetry. Later on, they softened their sound and built out their band, but they never stopped writing powerful lines. Throughout their more than two decades of music-making, they’ve released masteries of Southern literature (2007’s Emotionalism), roots music reinventions (2009’s I And Love And You) and a number of stunning sonnets about “pretty girls” in cities far and wide, as well as a few records that don’t go down as easy. But even on their weakest albums, there’s always at least one song that can plain stop you in your tracks. Even amid a few cringey pop-country diatribes and production missteps, that poetry always finds its way through.

On their first new studio record in nearly five years, the Avett Brothers are happy to put their poetry chops on display, stripping away some of the new-age production elements they tried out on 2016’s True Sadness and 2019’s Closer Than Together and allowing the lyrics to air out. They’re still working with legendary producer Rick Rubin, who some fans have held partly responsible for some of the Avett Brothers’ less impactful music of the last 10 years, but their new self-titled album sounds more like the Avett of old than the previous two. There’s a return to the punk-inspired screams they’ve employed on a few of their best ever songs (“Talk On Indolence”) on “Love Of A Girl,” the old-time music of their early days on “Country Kid” and the voice recordings of the Mignonette era on “Cheap Coffee.” The synths take a puzzling turn on “Forever Now,” but for the most part the music is a welcome nod to the music of their origin story—strings and singing.

But the subject matter, primarily, is most definitely new Avett. On their last two albums, they made less withdrawals from their love song bank and turned their attention to life’s big questions, often examining them through a faith perspective. The strongest example of this quest is “No Hard Feelings,” a truly moving song about laying down hate at the end of one’s life and finally facing a “savior true.” In pondering matters of the soul on The Avett Brothers, they never quite replicate the achievement of “Feelings,” but they get close on “Forever Now” (“How far is heaven? Is it in the air we breathe?”), “Never Apart” (“Death is not an issue / It cannot break my heart / And I don’t have to miss you / We’ll never be apart”) and “We Are Loved,” which evokes a hymn in the best way. These are high points delivered with gentleness.

The singing falters only when the group attempts to weave broad political grievances with the real threads of the music: love, family and faith. The catchy “Orion’s Belt” hums with Grateful Dead-like drums and crackles of Americana guitar and lands the line “looking for healing under a ceiling,” but the bemoaning of D.C. tomfoolery sounds like tired American angst. It gives way to “2020 Regret,” a ballad that somewhat lousily describes the psyche shift of that year. But my bleeding heart can’t ignore the sweetness behind some of the lyrics: “There’s never been a time I regretted a time with you.” The Avett Brothers’ music may be a little too earnest for some people’s taste, but it’s hard to deny the goodness in it. Even as the newness of marriage and parenthood fades away, they’re still romanticizing family life, self-actualization and treating people right because maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. It’s a beautiful kind of corny. As The Holiday’s heroine Iris once said, “I like corny. I’m looking for corny in my life.”

Whether you’re on the same mission as Iris or not, the corn tastes pretty good on The Avett Brothers. Some kernels could use a little more salt and butter, but it’s mostly summertime-sweet and simple. It still has that one song on the album that makes you stop what you’re doing, look around or—maybe—up, and think about what really matters. That moment of clarity comes on the album closer, “We Are Loved”: “Every stitch and seam / Every wish and dream / Even in tragedy / There lies divinity.” In other words, every moment is holy if you choose it to be so, from getting a “good deal on flowers at the grocery store” to sipping a pot of generic coffee with the one you love before the rest of the house is awake. It’s clear from these nine songs that the kind of poetry the Avett Brothers now write best isn’t about the mysteries of life—it’s about the assurances of the everyday.

Ellen Johnson is a former Paste music editor and forever pop culture enthusiast. Presently, she’s a full-time editor and part-time writer. You can find her in Atlanta, or rewatching Little Women on Letterboxd.

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