The Avett Brothers frontman returns to his solo project after over a decade, and it's a good one.
The past few years have been good to the Avett Brothers, their most recent success culminating in the form of a chart-topping success for their latest album, True Sadness, and lead single “Ain’t No Man”. With that said, for every couple of new fans that the band has adopted in expanding their sound, there’s at least one who takes issue with the genre-bending quest recently taken on by a group that once purely embraced the acoustic traditions of bluegrass, folk, and country. Luckily for these types, various members of the band have taken on side projects that may click better with them. These include, but are not limited to, Bob Crawford’s New Jersey Transient to Seth Avett’s own taking on of the Darling moniker for his solo work.
Enter IV, the fourth consecutive studio effort by Avett with the stage name, as its name would imply. For all of the pop pomp and circumstance that his 17-year-old main project with his brother Scott, Bob, and others have brought about, his motions as Darling have been decidedly understated from the very beginning. With Avett’s voice as the centerpiece of the project, accompanied by an acoustic ensemble setting its primary focus on his guitar work, Darling efforts tend to encapsulate more of the feeling of the albums of Avett Brothers’ past -- think The Second Gleam, but with drums.
Yet, Timothy Seth Avett as Darling is a passion project that has remained dormant for the 36-year-old artist since 2006. He was 25 during his last solo endeavor, and much has changed for him since then, between two marriages, the birth of a son, and all of that time spent on the road and in the studio with his main effort. Still, the “everyman in love” persona that he’d last donned as Darling over a decade ago is still as effervescent as it always has been, if not simultaneously tamed and weathered by the passage of time.
The songs present on IV still wonder in the same innocent, straight-talking way of loving previously seen on The Mourning, the Silver, the Bell, but the subject matter is decidedly more self-assured. Much of the record seems to be in dedication to the family that he’s built with actress Jennifer Carpenter following the birth of their son in 2015 and subsequent marriage in 2016. This can be seen from opening track “Disappointing You”, which plays out as an innocent confession to his love and on through “Should We Move”, where he questions if they should move to a place where they can, -- and this writer quotes -- "grow good tomatoes". It culminates in the tender ramblings of “Are You Thinking of Me” following further dedications over tracks like “Songbird”.
Taking a note from several generations of bluegrass tradition, Avett tackles a purely instrumental acoustic romp on “Samuel and the Baler”. Then, he spends the rest of the album taking note from several generations of folk tradition by delivering songs based on personal stories and the self-prescribed truths that he’s found through them. This comes about in different forms depending on where you look, but whether he’s questioning religion on “Faith Undefined” or how he fits into his love’s life on “Your World”, it always comes across as compelling with the scorching sincerity that he sets on the table.
Ultimately, IV marks a strong return for Seth Avett as Darling. From the disenfranchised fan of past studio material from the Brothers to long-time enthusiasts of all that they have put out, and even to those yet to become a part of the Avett world at large, there is something soft-spoken, and compelling to unsuspectingly seduce you for a good listen or two. Here’s to hoping that we won’t have to wait another decade for Darling’s next effort.