Avett Brothers | Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions (Ramseur)

The largely acoustic instrumentation would work within several sub-genres of country music or bluegrass, its Appalachian cousin. But the lack of instrumental breaks showcasing the musical prowess of the players and bluegrass-style harmonies make this a bad fit for the latter.

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In theory, reviewing a CD should be a reasonably straightforward exercise. Describe the music. Compare it with similar music that you and hopefully your readers have heard before. What’s different or unique? Normally the tough part isn’t figuring out the overall content of the review. Instead it’s deciding how to say it so that it doesn’t read like the same review you’ve seen a hundred times before. But on rare occasions, a disc lands on your desk that doesn’t fit neatly into any of the convenient pigeonholes you’ve used in the past. The Avett Brothers’ latest is one of those. Lacking a better idea, let’s compare Four Thieves Gone with some of the typical labels that might be used. By explaining the ways it fits and the reasons it doesn’t belong in each of these, we can hopefully triangulate on exactly where on the musical frontier the Avett Brothers have staked their claim.

One possible comparison might be indie rock. The brooding vocals are reminiscent of Mark Eitzel of American Music Club. Smart, seemingly autobiographical lyrics and the overall attitude of the disc are a good fit within this musical space. However, the instrumentation is all wrong. Shouldn’t you have something that at least sounds electric to call it rock?

The Avett Brothers’ 2002 debut was called Country Was. Maybe that’s a clue? The largely acoustic instrumentation would work within several sub-genres of country music or bluegrass, its Appalachian cousin. But the lack of instrumental breaks showcasing the musical prowess of the players and bluegrass-style harmonies make this a bad fit for the latter. And the same qualities that that make the lyrics and vocals fit so well within the indie rock category make the country comparison quickly fall apart.

At least one Web site has described Four Thieves Gone as “folk.” By the broadest definition, there’s very little music that wouldn’t fit within the folk category (who was it that first said “it’s folk music, because it’s for folks”?). With the variety of acts that play major folk festivals each summer, it seems that virtually anybody might be considered a folk musician. So yeah, that fits. It just doesn’t help our understanding.

Let’s just say “to hell with the labels.” If you’re a musical vagabond, someone who’s tastes are as hard to categorize as the Avett Brothers’ music, then Four Thieves Gone might be just what you’re looking for. Indie rockers with an urge to unplug and roots music fans looking to push the envelope should take note.

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