The Carpenter, the sixth studio album (and second with producer Rick Rubin) from North Carolina’s Avett Brothers, is as amiable, quaint, mischievous, sad, and disarmingly sincere as its predecessor, landing somewhere between the easy, late summer nostalgia of Ron Sexsmith, the wise and wounded defiance of the Band, and the harmony-laden, pop-laced melancholy of the Jayhawks. Chillier and less piano-heavy than 2009's I and Love and You, The Carpenter feels like both an exorcism and a benediction, bringing down the magnifying glass on the myriad complexities of death while maintaining an unwavering sense of optimism, a delicate balance that's best exemplified on the lovely opener "The Once and Future Carpenter," a dusty, sprawling, yet meticulously crafted '70s folk-rock stunner that's built around the notion that "If I live the life I'm given I won’t be scared to die." That adherence to maverick decency permeates much of the album, dutifully utilizing the outlaw country archetype of the weary traveler in search of an honest woman and a respite from the spiritual grind of the open road. Scott and Seth Avett's glassy tenors may not harbor the grit and grime of Waylon Jennings or Townes Van Zandt, but set piece ballads like the bittersweet "February Seven" and "Winter in My Heart," the latter of which is pure Red Headed Stranger-era Willie Nelson with a bigger arsenal of chords, ache with the kind of weary, pre-dawn fervor that usually accompanies a wanderlust binge. It's not all tears and beers though, as evidenced by more propulsive cuts like the bouncy, banjo-led "Live and Die," "I Never Knew You," a skiffle-soaked takedown of an ex-lover, replete with stereo-panned Beatles harmonies, and the left-field, feedback-drenched art rocker "Paul Newman vs. the Demons," but it's the quieter moments that really resonate, despite what the group's notoriously kinetic live shows may suggest. At its heart, which is most definitely on its sleeve, The Carpenter is a relatively simple, country-folk record, albeit one with a college degree, and when it connects it hits that sweet spot between joy and despair that has served as the target for many a dusty brimmed singer/songwriter over the years. The Avett Brothers aren’t rewriting the book, they're just translating it for a new generation.
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AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger