Jim Avett's 2009 release, Jim Avett and Family, was a record that, while maybe not 40-some years in the making, was probably 40-some years in the considering. With the album's slate of gospel standards, the patriarch of North Carolina's most popular export presented himself as an interpreter. But with six of its seven songs being Avett originals, the new Tribes can be considered Avett's proper debut as a country music singer-songwriter. He cites Merle Haggard and Tom T. Hall as two of his favorites. And while he makes no claims of being in their league, his work does favor the type of introspective storytelling that carries classics like "If We Make It Through December" and "The Year That Clayton Delaney Died."
Such is the case with openers "This Will Take Time" and "Through the Passing Years," first-person tales that set the stage for Tribes' examinations of the various faces and stages of love. In addition to sharing a certain time-consciousness, they're also two of a kind in sound, with melodies low-key but lingering and Avett's voice conversational. That mood changes with "Fight With a Bottle of Booze," as the violin from the first two songs turns into a fiddle. The bottle doesn't let you down here; it tries to kick your ass. This quiet-then-loud pattern continues with the coffeehouse-hushed title track and "That Old House," whose country music makes a good run at being as rough-and-tumble as the childhood that's depicted in the song.
But the closing pair leaves the deepest imprint. The lovely "Preachers and Thieves," written by and co-starring Molly McGinn of Amelia's Mechanic, has at least one foot in the salvation tent. And "Naomi" recounts the 2003 murder of Naomi Estes in Avett's Concord by her youth-pastor husband. In this last instance, as the album's final words express, "Love is a cold-blooded thing."