This has got to be my favorite album of the year so far. You had to see this toure-de-force coming: Rick Rubin + American Recordings + the Avetts! What you get is something of high quality, accessibility, and authenticity. On most albums I can pick certain standout tracks, this one is no different except in the fact that nearly every track would be a highlight on another album. All that said, the Avetts wind up crafting an album of more than merely the sum of its tracks. The thread of Love in all its permutations is woven throughout the disc, the result is a vulnerable, genuine, poignant and fun album...
1. I and Love and You
Highlights the the sound Rubin made famous on tracks like Cash's "Hurt." An apt piano-driven scene-setter.
2. January Wedding
Ventures into the familiar recent territory of Second Gleam record. "She's talkin' to me with her voice/Down so low I barely hear her/But I know what she's sayin'/I understand because my heart and hers are the same ."
3. Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise
Again with the piano: "When nothing is owed, deserved or expected/And your life doesn't change by the man that's elected."
4. And it Spread
A vulnerable love song using drug metaphors. Works for Tweedy, Cash, et al. "Then you came back from space/With a brand new laugh and a different face/You took my hand and held it up/And shot my arm full of love."
5. The Perfect Space
Personality trait wish list interrupted by a Skynard-esque break. "I wanna have pride like my mother has/And not like the kind in the bible that turns you bad."
6. Ten Thousand Words
Singing on top of a James Taylor song: "Ain't it like most people? I'm no different/We love to talk on things we don't know about." Probably true from my experience.
7. Kick Drum Heart
Pop-tune, about fluttering hearts. Cutesy, but highly enjoyable- especially when some of those long-contained screams start seeping out.
8. Laundry Room
Perhaps my favorite over-all track, reminiscent of some of their best moments on "Four Thieves Gone." "Break this tired old routine/and this time dont make me leave/I am a breathing time machine,/I'll take you on for a ride," followed by an extended bluegrass rollick.
9. Ill with Want
Sort of their Romans 7 track don't you think?
10. Tin Man
Honestly, don't love this one yet. "I miss that, I miss that, oh, I miss that feeling of feeling."
11. Slight Figure of Speech
Every first major album has to have that track or at least that moment where the band acknowledges, winks at, or answers to their recent success. This is their answer to Reel Big Fish's "Sell Out" (didn't see that ska reference coming did you?). "They said 'I hope that you will never change'/I went and cut my hair./They say 'Don't take your business to the big time'/I bought us tickets there." Tune into Jimmy Fallon next week (Wed 11/18) to see this one performed.
12. It Goes On and On
"Baby would you leave me if you knew that I was making it up/and underneath the love you gotta wonder am I giving you up/No way am I."
13. Incomplete and Insecure
I'm convinced that the power of this last track comes from the looking for revelation and calling from elsewhere. We've all had those times when we either think we have it all figured or wallow in the seeming permanence of unhappiness before, surprisingly we can say, "but watching you makes me think that that is wrong." When that happens, nothing can stay the same.
Two more items bear consideration with this album...
Exhibit A: Album Mission Statement written by Seth Avett (from the liner notes).
This bespeaks the band's long ability to put together reflective, intelligent, accessible, and introspective work:
The words "I" and "Love" and "You" are the watermark of humanity. Strung together, they convey our deepest sense of humility, of power, of truth. It is our most common sentiment, even as the feeling of it is so infinitely uncommon : each to proclaim these three words with his or her very own heart and mindset of reason (or lack thereof); a proclamation completely and perfectly new each time it is offered. Uttered daily and nightly by millions, the words are said in an unending array of circumstances : whispered to a newborn in a mothers arms; shared between best friends on the playground; in the form of sympathy -said by a girl to a boy, as the respect continues but the relationship does not. It is said too loudly by parents to embarassed children in the company of their friends, and by grown children - to their fading parents in hospital beds. The words are thought in the company of the photograph and said in the company of the gravestone. It is how we end our phone calls and our letters... the words at the bottom of the page that trump all those above it, a way to gracefully finish a message, however important or trivial, with the most meaningful gift of all : the communication of love. And yet the words themselves have been the victims of triviality, a ready replacement for lesser salutations among near strangers, burst forth casually as "love ya." Truly? To what degree? Why, how much, and for how long? These are questions befitting of the stature of love, though not the everyday banter of vague acquaintance. The words have also been twisted by the dark nature of deceit : To say "I love you" with a dramatic measure of synthetic emotion; a snare set by those who prey uponn fellow humanity, driven to whatever selfish end, to gain access to another's body, or their money, or their opportunity. In this realm, the proclamation is disgraced by one seeking to gain rather than to give. In any case, and by whatever inspiration, these words are woven deeply in to the fibers of our existence. Our longing to hear them from the right place is maddeningly and simultaneously our finest strength and our most gentle weakness.
The album "I and Love and You" is inashamedly defined by such a dynamic of duality. As living people, we are bound by this unavoidable parallel. We are powerful yet weak, capable yet temporary. Inevitably, an attempt to place honesty within an artistic avenue will follow suit. This is a piece which shows us as we are : products of love surrounded by struggle. The music herein is, in many ways, readable as both a milestone and an arrival. A chapter in the story of young men, it bridges the space between the uncertainty of youth and the reality of it's release. The record is full with the quality of the question and response. As far as questions go, there are plenty-normally residing within the tone and delivery of the lyrics themselves, which, ironically, are sung with so much confidence. Among songs and thoughts so driven and purposeful, the most basic relatable doubt comes through with a resounding clarity. Outside of the eternal theme of romantic love, the album speaks thankfully upon a landscape of light-filled rooms, word-filled pages, time machines, forgiveness, singing birds, ocean waves, art ,change, confessions of shortcomings, and reasons to continue on. Hope and a cause for smiling follow naturally. In the midst of all this, there are allusions to the less-than-ideal conditions of life : the loss of memory, the inability to control temper, insecurity, indecision, jaded indifference, and the general plague of former and current weakness. "I and Love and You" is an album of obvious human creation, chracterized by it's best and it's worst. Emotional imperfection is a reality for those who recorded the piece, just as it is for those who will hear it. The conclusion of the song from which the title is taken admits that the words "I love you" have become "hard to say". And perhaps that difficulty is as common as it's counterpart. Perhaps the inability to say these heaviest of words is as much a part of life as the lighthearted candor of those who say them without any difficulty at all. And so it ends with the phrase whispered to and by those of us most defeated and most elated... I and love and you...
Exhibit B: This first music video offers a glimpse at the personality of the band. Skilled at touching and adept at drawing upon the energy and enthusiasm of their fans: