Their platform has never been larger; their music has never felt closer.
The last album from The Avett Brothers, 2016’s True Sadness, topped the charts and garnered Grammy noms. The following year brought the critically acclaimed documentary May It Last, directed by Judd Apatow. Next year, Swept Away, a new musical inspired by (and featuring) their music, will make its debut. The platform has never been larger.
Despite such heights, the Avetts remain surprisingly grounded. Perhaps the nearly 20-year ascent to “arrive” provided a healthy way forward. Perhaps the band would have remained true to their creative calling and community regardless of the rate of acceleration. It matters not. The latest album from The Avett Brothers, Closer Than Together, is a remarkable roots music release — an intensely personal-yet-prophetic album that never resorts to finger-wagging.
The greatest achievement of Closer Than Together is in its ability to be so rooted for a band that belongs to so many. The stories and statements contained within are timely American tunes, personal conversations turned melodies that reflect on what it means to live in these fractured states of America. While some songs are undoubtedly focused on specific issues of our day, the majority of Closer’s commentary mourns the loss of community or earnestly calls us back to it.
Opener “Bleeding White,” certain to be a live favorite, is a confident barroom rocker that belies its musical muscle with the protagonist’s confession that he’s slowly dying alone. “I left you behind / but you can find me if I don’t wander too far away,” sings Seth Avett, a call to move closer together than farther apart.
The theme continues as the perspective shifts on “When You Learn,” a beautiful ballad upon which Scott Avett sings, “There is no city filled with lights so bright that you forget you have never had a home.” The bigger picture speaks the same, that we all belong to another.
The Avetts try to fight being “eaten up with cynicism” on “Locked Up” as Scott laments a heart growing colder toward the world around him. “I’m a stubborn goat getting older / a cube of ice getting colder / frozen heart and frozen shoulders / that’s what I’ve got / a sweetheart I am not.” The propulsive track features the repeated line, “I can’t be locked like this.”
That’s not to say that the Avetts aren’t willing to offer up their cultural or political observations from time to time. The prophetic edge of roots music is prominent when discussing patriarchy (“New Woman’s World”), gun control and violent media (“Bang Bang”), and the darker chapters of our nation’s history (“We Americans”). Yet even those supposed issue-driven songs find the Avetts acknowledging their complicity in it all. They aren’t learned men informing the ignorant. They’re confused, searching for truth. They’re weary, but willing to work.
In short, no matter the topic of discussion or the size of the platform, The Avett Brothers remain firmly committed to being near to us instead of distant from us. Their music has never felt closer.