The Avett Brothers’ Second Gleam

Scott and Seth Avett
Scott and Seth Avett

The Avett Brothers
Second Gleam
Ramseur Records

The Avett Brothers’ star has been rising for several years now. Though they play a sometimes-raucous blend of rock, bluegrass, and more, the Merlefest crowd took a liking to them early on, and news came this summer of their impending move to Rick Rubin’s American Recordings label for their next full-band CD.

Before they ramp up for that next step toward world domination and corporate rock, however, Seth and Scott Avett have taken it down several notches for their second short collection of mellow acoustic tunes, The Second Gleam. The title is a follow-up to the 2005 Gleam EP, which also featured a short set of quiet acoustic songs that stand among some of the brothers’ best compositions—until now, at least.

The usual pell-mell punk-grass effect that gets the band such rabid fans at live shows is entirely absent from the Gleam series (can I call it a series if there are only two so far?), with the focus on quiet yet powerful melodies, delicate finger-picked guitars, and gently descending vocals that tread the notes and scales like water trickling down a brick terrace on a hillside.

“Tear Down The House,” is a tale of maturity, moving on, and forging new beginnings while leaving old ways behind. “I remember crying over you, and I don’t mean a couple of tears and I’m through,” goes one line, as the song moves from giving up a favorite car to getting over a lost love.

“Murder in the City,” is an unexpectedly sweet love note that posits the possibility of what would happen if one side of a relationship suddenly passed away, or ceased to exist in some way. The lyrics read almost like a eulogy:
“Make sure my sister knows I loved her, make sure my mother knows the same; always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name.”

“Not even the hands of God could hold me back from you,” goes one of the opening lines in “The Greatest Sum,” a dark-tinged declaration of dedication and love. It is counterbalanced by “Bella Donna,” which sounds like a lost hit from the early 1970s, one sung by John Denver, or Simon and Garfunkel, all atmosphere and an airy melody.

“St. Joseph’s,” is a cryptic story that apparently details events surrounding an unexpected pregnancy and the birth of a child, from sitting in a hospital waiting room to wedding decisions. The end result is one of commitment through struggles, and ultimately being blessed by the experience. It’s heavy stuff for popular song, but these are not really designed to be “pop songs,” at least not in the sense that they are written expecting radio airplay. These are the kind of songs that songwriters write because they are driven to. The final song seems to address this need, and the release that comes with the writing.

“One little song, give me strength to leave the sad and the wrong
Buried safely in the past where I’ve been living, alive but unforgiving.”

Here’s hoping that there are more Gleam EPs where the first two came from, giving the Avetts a unique songwriting outlet even as they go on to bigger, more produced full length albums.

Live Version of “Murder in the City”

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