Thursday, June 21, 2007

Telluride Bluegrass Festival - The Avett Brothers

There's a considerable buzz among the jamgrass element about the Avett Brothers, a trio currently touring in support of their "Emotionalism" CD. I admit to being intrigued by the single live recording I've heard - the Avetts (pronounced A-vetts) seemed in the vein of other old-timey revivalists like Old School Freight Train or Old Crow Medicine Show.

(By the way, what are we going to call this emerging subgenre? Young bands that interpret old-timey music with modern song structures and sensibilities? Double-timers? Neo-timers?)

The Avetts do put on a helluva high energy stage show. There're clear punk influences in their manic rhythms and constant in-motion stage style while their instrumentation reflects roots elements expressed in the single acoustic guitar, banjo and double bass. But there's percussion, too, in the high hat and kick drum operated by one brother each. The bassist departs from tradition as well, behaving more like one of Edgar's kids than following the Mike Bubb school of acoustic bass play.

But in the end there's just not much "there" there. While their energy is spontaneous and infectious, they suffer from ragged harmonies wrapped around lyrics that range from superficial to silly. As instrumentalists they handle high speed picking reasonably well, but there's no "Oh, wow" moment, something the Telluride crowd expects at least once per set. Their hyperactive jug band style will probably gain them a considerable segment of the 20-something acoustic string music crowd, but without a little more maturity in their songcraft they'll risk relegation to a sort of Yonder Mountain String Band 2.0 category. And that's too bad, because the Avett Brothers have far more potential than that.

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