Local Wire

Avett Brothers

Naming no names, but after listening to an album by a certain "alt-bluegrass" combo, a mini-epiphany alighted: Why listen to a half-assed, smug-hipster version of bluegrass when the real thing — Ralph Stanley, Gibson Brothers, even Alison Krauss — is available? Listening to the Avett Brothers posed a similar argument until a realization: They're not a bluegrass band, but rather a punk string band. True, the Avett Brothers are inspired by acoustic icons New Lost City Ramblers and Doc Watson (with whom they played on a bill). But the group — siblings Scott (vocals, guitar, and banjo) and Seth Avett (guitar and vocals), and acoustic bassist Rob Crawford — isn't trying to emulate the standard-bearers. "Playing at a bluegrass festival, we got heckled once, where a guy yelled, 'Why don't you pick the banjo!'" Scott says. "I approach the banjo rhythmically, more like a rhythm guitar." Formed in Greenville, North Carolina, The Avett Brothers yearned to merge punk irreverence with roots music. Their latest album, Emotionalism, can evoke the Ramones reincarnated as folkies (the thorny opener "Die Die Die"), while the lilting "Pretty Girl From San Diego" suggests Jamaican calypso. The Avetts don't break their necks conveying down-home "authenticity" — instead, harmonies are rough, pitch is beside the point, and there are few displays of instrumental "technique." But like the best punk rock, bluegrass, and folk music, there are stick-to-the-ribs tunes and heart a-plenty.