The most telling moment on the Avett Brothers’ seventh album is “Pretty Girl From Michigan,” part of a decade-long song series that began with “Pretty Girl From Matthews.” On “Michigan,” the bluegrass pickin’ and raw country harmonies of previous “Girls” – born partly, one imagines, from repeated listens to the Stones’ “Dead Flowers” – give way to fat electric-guitar ri_ s and pomaded, doo-wop-fl avored vocals. Like much of The Carpenter, it’s the sound of a band pushing past an old identity and toward something bigger.
2009’s Rick Rubin-produced I and Love and You confirmed the Avett Brothers’ transformation from quasi-bluegrass combo to modern soft-rock force. The Carpenter, also produced by Rubin, does an even better job balancing their roots charm and pop ambition, with straightforward and sturdy songcraft that holds up even when these polite Southern boys’ lyrics tilt toward corn. Mood swings keep things interesting: “Winter in My Heart” is a weeper with a ghostly singing saw; “I Never Knew You” is a bouncy, piano-driven confection full of Beatlesque touches. You could argue here for less cello, more hot-pickin’ and hootenanny hollering. But this crew aspires to be more than a jam-band circuit attraction. They’ve become Auto-Tune-less pop stars, and The Carpenter will only brighten their shine.
Listen to ‘The Carpenter’: