Avett Brothers’ new album explores concept of death, tragedy

Francie Johnson

As a Dallas native, maybe I’m a little biased, but from the moment I heard the opening line, “I ain’t from Texas, but I made my way from Dallas” off of the Avett Brothers’ newest album, “The Carpenter,” I was hooked.

“The Carpenter,” released on Sept. 11, has that catchy, folk-rock, distinctively-Avett-Brothers sound that fans have come to know and love, but underneath the infectious melodies and the clear-cut voices lies a profound exploration of the concept of death.

The release of “The Carpenter,” the band’s seventh full-length studio album, coincides with a traumatic event in the band’s history; bassist Bob Crawford’s two-year-old daughter Hallie’s recent brain tumor diagnosis. Most of the album had already been completed prior to this diagnosis, but this real-life tragedy pulls the somewhat ambiguous idea of death out of the shadows, urging listeners to face the notion head on.

The interesting thing about this album is that on first listen, it doesn’t sound anything like you’d expect an album so rooted in mortality to sound. Half of the songs from the album at least touch on the concept of death, but in most of them, this heavy theme hides behind simple, yet catchy melodies. Even the slower songs, while powerful and insightful lyrically, don’t quite convey that same gut-wrenching intensity in the music itself. But this stark, unexpected contrast between music and lyrics only adds more depth to an already thought-provoking album.

Something that has always drawn me to the Avett Brothers, and perhaps the aspect of their music that appeals to me the most, is their lyrics. The Avett Brothers’ lyrics are consistently beautiful, somehow managing to be straightforward and concise, yet emotional and introspective, all at the same time. This new album is no exception. In “The Once and Future Carpenter,” the album’s opening track, the brothers sing, “And my life is but a coin, pulled from an empty pocket, dropped into a slot with dreams of sevens close behind.”

Another song off of the album, “February Seven,” opens with the verses, “I went on the search for something true. I was almost there when I found you. Sooner than my fate was wrote, perfectly it slit my throat, and beads of lust released into the air. When I awoke you were standing there.” These lyrics are nothing short of pure poetry, and their beauty immediately strikes a chord within the listener.

In “Through My Prayers,” the song I find most emotionally powerful, the brothers bare their souls in a strikingly honest message to a loved one who has passed. They sing, “My dream of all dreams and my hope of all hopes, is only to tell you and make sure you know, how much I love you and how much I always did,” perfectly putting into words the universal desire to communicate with lost loved ones.

Despite my love for “The Carpenter,” I can’t help but compare it to the Avett Brothers’ previous album, “I and Love and You,” released in September 2009. While “The Carpenter” is holistically a great album, no single song packs as powerful of a punch as songs such as, “Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise” and “I and Love and You” off of the previous album.

Overall, “The Carpenter” is a wonderful addition to the Avett Brothers’ already impressive catalogue. Both die-hard Avett fans and casual listeners alike will appreciate the depth and beauty of this philosophical exploration of human mortality.