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With music from the heart, Avett Brothers end year on high note

Blumenthal Performing Arts , Charlotte, N.C., December 31, 2020

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

It had been nearly a year since the Avett Brothers last played a gig. So what better way to end a most dismal year but with the return of the band. Of course, their 17th annual New Year's Eve gig - Ring In 2021 with the Avett Brothers - was a lot different than any of their others thanks to Covid-19.

Prior to the Avetts hitting the stage, they had a lot of friends play songs, although they weren't always the traditional feel good New Year's Eve fare. Pinkish-haired Jessica Lea Mayfield played solo acoustic throwing out the line, "Never lend a helping hand to anyone at all," in what must be the irony of ironies this year in particular.

Ben Bridwell from Band of Horses sat in his living room solo acoustic with his dog in tow offering a line, "The worst thing I could do is get back to you" from "Laredo." Guess New Year's Eve isn't such an upper of a night for some. In a humorous aside, Bridwell lamented that his dog was eating his mask the whole time.

The duo of Mandolin Orange sat in the woods on mandolin and acoustic guitar stayed in the same desultory mode with "My Brother, My Keeper" as Andrew Marlin sang "If I could fight I'd probably kill him/My heart is broken and I'm filled with dread/Dizzied by the buzzards circling overhead." The song, put out two months ago, ultimately is about caring for others, "pondering who is looking out for who."

The Avetts turned to Texas for some support. Willie Nelson trotted out his chestnut "On the Road Again" with sons Lukas and Micah in tow on acoustic guitar. Willie's guitar skills remained fully intact as did his beat-up trigger. Now, this was an upbeat song considering the lack of musicians on the road for almost all of 2020, especially Nelson, a longstanding road warrior.

Nelson's harmonica player, Mickey Raphael later intoned "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" solo saying, "I know there's a light at the end of the tunnel."

Asleep at the Wheel, playing as a quartet, turned in the light, bouncy "The Girl I Left Behind Me" with Ray Benson leading the way along with the fiddling duo of Katie Shore and Dennis Ludiker once again showing their talents on the old English folk song.

Norah Jones took it down a few notches playing John Loudermilk's "Turn Me On" on her piano. Jones gave it a slightly jazzy feel on the sad sounding song.

G.Love offered an invigorated reading of the title track of his most recent disc "The Juice" with its bluesy feel amidst looking for world peace.

And then it was time for the Avett Brothers playing before an empty theatre in Charlotte. It was hard to believe that they hadn't played in almost a year together from the pretty sounding, but somewhat mournful opening "Every Morning Song" with Scott Avett, decked out in a black hat, taking lead vocals.

But it was quickly back to a more traditional Avetts sound on the banjo-inflected "Will You Return?" with Seth on lead vocals. Like many Avett songs, though less so tonight, this one grew more raucous as it went along, though there were a lot of vocal harmonies as well fro the brothers, giving it somewhat of a pop feel.

There was smart interplay no only between the brothers, but also including other band members trading words on the fast-paced and intricate "Distraction #74."

The give-and-take was dominant throughout, including the soulful "Ain't No Man" with its heavy bottom courtesy of cellist Joe Kwon.

This was vintage Avetts with invigorated readings of "All Vanity" and the extended "Heart Like a Kick Drum." Playing before thousands of empty seats didn't seem to matter.

Brothers Avett had their own time together, both on acoustic guitar, on "Victory" from their new disc, "The Gleam III." There's no denying the beauty of brothers singing together. Ditto for "Laundry Room" with Scott Avett filling the gaps with his banjo before the band jammed away with plenty of fiddle as well. Their wonderful interaction was perhaps no more evident than on perhaps their best-known song "I and Love and You" with Seth on piano. The singing was top notch with Scott getting into the emotion of the songs time and again.

The Avetts did a good job of creating an engaging set list of the well-known ("Live and Die" and "Shame") and deeper cuts (the gospel song "Satan Pulls the Strings" and "Say Love" and "Die Die Die," with the latter two from 2007's "Emotionalism"). Throughout the night, they mined various stages of their voluminous output.

The Avetts mixed it up big time with the blues rock of Wilbert Harrison's "Let's Work Together" with Herbie "Father Time" Abernathy dressed in a monk's outfit spearheading the lead vocals in the most straight-ahead rocker of the night.

The Avett Brothers didn't extend their celebration to midnight, but over the course of 24 songs, the Avett Brothers set a high bar for themselves. Funny how taking off a long time seems to have had no ill effect on yet one more Avett Brothers New Years Eve shindig.

But if you thought the night ended with the Avett Brothers reading of "No Hard Feelings," guess again. They were on their way back to their barn to play as a duo in time for midnight. In the interim, viewers were entertained by the likes of Nicole Atkins, who made you want to hear far more than "In the Splinters," and Scott and Seth Avett's father, Jim, who is a pretty darn fair musician himself, Brandi Carlile (a great less bluesy take of Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me")

About the only question on a night of worthy music was the length. At more than 4 hours online, that was asking a lot of fans. which says nothing about the quality of the music. Nice move by the Avetts to showcase a slew of well known and mainly not so well known artists.

And then it was time for the brothers on their own, starting with Roger Miller's jaunty "Reincarnation." With songs like "Please Pardon Yourself," "Share Your Name," this was more of a front porch type of session (well, they were seated in their spruced up barn for the occasion) with the simplicity of their voices, banjo and acoustic guitar coming to the fore.

This was music from the heart whether the band or on their own. And while certain overtly appreciative of the crowd and support, the Avetts also looked towards the future with optimism. For them, some it is spiritual (a 120-year-old gospel song, "When the Storms of Life is Raging, Stand By Me," learned from their father) at some level with faith and promise ruling over "the hell in paradise right here on earth.' It's been that kind of year, but the Avett Brothers continued their annual rite of New Year's Eve, and at least, they helped end the year on a high note.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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