CD Review of The Second Gleam by The Avett Brothers
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Ramseur Records
The Avett Brothers:
The Second Gleam

Reviewed by Greg M. Schwartz

It costs nothing to be honest, loyal and true,” says the signature quote at the Avett Brothers’ MySpace page. This sentiment could well be the mission statement for The Second Gleam, the follow-up to the duo’s 2006 EP The Gleam, both of which present the North Carolina act in a stripped-down format. Fans of the band’s 2007 Emotionalism album and energetic live trio shows with bassist Bob Crawford will find a different version of Seth and Scott Avett here. The upbeat pop rock flavor, punk bursts and grunge wails are absent. It’s just two guys and their guitars – and sometimes a banjo or harmonica.

The duo aren’t changing their style, but rather displaying a particular side in what is said to be their last release for independent Ramseur Records before they move onto their major label debut for American Recordings, with none other than Rick Rubin producing. That album is a potential monster breakthrough for 2009, leaving The Second Gleam sounding like the proverbial calm before the storm.

Like the first Gleam EP, The Second Gleam highlights only one aspect of the Avett Brothers’ musical mojo – their pensive, down-tempo inner existential musings. Fordiehard fans, it provides an intimate look inside the souls of these rising stars. “Tear Down the House” opens the EP, and sets the tone with sparse acoustic guitar and some banjo over a remorseful vibe: “Tear down the house that I grew up in, I’ll never be the same.”

“Murder in the City” features more heartfelt vocals, along with some of the band’s unique Southern charm as they sing “If I get murdered in the city / Don\'t go revengin\' in my name.” One might at least hope for a plethora of vocal harmonies, but “The Greatest Sum” is the only song on the disc that really delivers there. “Souls Like the Wheels” has some nice picking that recalls the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” though, providing a sound that could fit right in for winding down on Saturday night or awakening on Sunday morning.

There’s not much variety here, with all six songs mining similar musical ground and subdued vibes about death and remembrance. It does offer a truly intimate approach, however; the EP feels like the Avett boys could be performing these tunes right on your porch. Those who are drawn to the whole lively package that the band can so artfully provide may find The Second Gleam to be on the one-dimensional side. Each tune is like the breather song between rockers in the live show. The release is obviously meant to fulfill their indie deal and is clearly intended for the initiated, unlikely to win new fans. But it’s further testimony to the band that these are some seriously soulful musicians who are dedicated to doing things their way, and it only heightens the anticipation for that likely breakout release next year.

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