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Monday, October 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 43.0° F  A Few Clouds
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The Avett Brothers: The Carpenter
(Universal Republic)

The title track of the Avett Brothers' new record reveals how comfortable the musicians are with appearing in Gap ads and facing anyone who would question their integrity. "If I live the life I'm living, I won't be scared to die," goes the whimsical, campfire-ready chorus. It's as strong as any of their mystical story-songs.

Joe Kwon's cello, oftentimes an odd musical third wheel in the rollicking presence of a banjo and guitar, doesn't pretend to be anything but a cello on this project, particularly when exploring the cold in "Winter in My Heart." Kwon gilds a symphonic catchphrase in the bridge and projects dark-colored notes just beneath the surface throughout. The song also features a glistening turn on musical saw. That said, I urge you to ignore the song's similarity to George Jones' recording of "He Stopped Loving Her Today." I'm sure the Avetts would win in court.

When discussing the Avetts' live show, I once described them as playing "with the sense of urgency and zany adventure that you would invest in the act of throwing a blanket over a bat flying loose in your house." Producer Rick Rubin has found a way to bring out that grinning sense of abandon on two records now.

In the fun-tacular sense, the champion cut on The Carpenter is the all-too-brief "I Never Knew You." What a fun number this would be to hear live. The recurring line of the song soothes the smudge of cynicism within anyone who's ever left a lover and never regretted it: "You say I wouldn't know you now - well, I didn't even know you then."

The album climbs confidently, moving toward a peak song by song. Unfortunately the Avetts reach the summit about halfway through. The music continues to succeed but the brothers seem to have run out of words, at least words that emote rather than tell.

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