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Smells Like Twang Spirit

The Avett Brothers want to rock you and your grandparents.

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They're a traditionally configured bluegrass trio that rocks out in a big, absurd, playing-to-a-stadium kind of way.

I don't just mean three guys with explosively physical live performances. This Concord, N.C.-based group juggles pop and country and melodies, campfire punk and bluegrass with uninhibited rock 'n' roll of the "more cowbell!," Stonehenge-crushing "Spinal Tap" variety.

They also sing real purdy slow songs, too.

The trio consists of talented songwriters Scott and Seth Avett, who sing and play banjo and guitar respectively, and New Jersey native Bob Crawford, who keeps things anchored on stand-up bass. They've been together since late 2001, steadily earning fans with highly touted live shows that seesaw between moments of tenderness and rebel yell chaos.

"I think it's our personalities and chemistry that people pick up on," Crawford says from his home in Greenville, N.C. "It's like being in the eye of a hurricane. The brothers go crazy and I try to keep the harmonic structure somewhat coherent. Then sometimes I fall into the hurricane."

Crawford was originally a jazz student at Winthrop University in South Carolina when he met the Avetts, who were disbanding their electric rock band, Nemo.

As a trio they began cranking out rowdy acoustic roots music influenced by the '90s grunge rock the brothers grew up on. They quickly built a following from regular gigs at the Wine Vault in Charlotte, N.C.

One listen to their sixth album and latest full-length, "Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions," and it's clear the brothers have songwriting chops.

The opener, "Talk on Indolence," begins with a hyper-paranoid rant before abruptly shifting into a catchy sing-along that closes with typically blunt lyrics - "Now I've grown too aware of my mortality/to let go and forget about dying/long enough to drop the hammer down/and let the indolence go wild and flying through!" — whereupon the song explodes with a shock-and-awe power chord finale and joyous hollering.

Dolph Ramseur was so blown away when he first saw the Avetts four years ago that he immediately offered to become their manager and release their records on his label (Ramseur Records) — all on a handshake basis.

"What struck me were the original songs," Ramseur says. "The live shows take people on a roller coaster of emotions. It can go from a whisper to a scream very quickly. … I've seen them perform more than 300 times, and it never ever gets old."

The new songs often return to themes of doomed love and nostalgia for fleeting moments, such as "Sixteen in July," which recalls the joys of first-time driving and dating without sounding corny. They also pull off some classic vocal harmonies on a gorgeously bittersweet ballad about unrequited love ("Pretend Love") that would make the Everly Brothers proud.

"Scott [Avett] is probably the only true artist I've ever met — a great painter as well," bass player Crawford says. "Not a drug addict or the self-loathing stereotype, he's a hard worker like his father, creating 24 hours a day."

The Avetts' father was a touring musician for years, and the family moved between North Carolina, Alaska and Wyoming while the brothers were growing up.

Crawford says the Avetts' shows draw an unusually eclectic crowd. "Everyone from punk kids to bluegrass fans to young families," he says. "Kids bring their parents then the parents come back and bring their parents. It's wonderful to be a part of."

The Avetts will be performing at the tranquil Lewis Ginter outdoor stage with a similarly powerful Virginia bluegrass band, The Hackensaw Boys, now with Richmonder and ex-member of the Crying Shames, Ward "Cousin Spits" Harrison on guitar.

"They're great," Crawford recalls. "I think we played with them before at a pig picking in Rocky Mount [N.C.] around Halloween. Coldest gig of my life."

The Avetts have a new six-song EP coming out in six months and hope to have a new album recorded around December.

"The future's open — anything could happen. For all I know, in a year and a half we could all be playing electric instruments," Crawford adds. "It's a good band for me, 'cause you don't always have to hit the right notes."

Amen to that. S



The Avett Brothers open for The Hackensaw Boys at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Thursday, June 15, at 6 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance at Plan 9, Lewis Ginter or online at www.richmondconcerts.net or $20 at the door.



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