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Oh, Brothers! 

The Houston Brothers and The Avett Brothers keep it in the family

It's always dusk in a Houston Brothers song, and that, as the recently defrocked Martha Stewart might say, is a good thing. The laid-back harmonies of brothers Matt and Justin Faircloth (nee Houston) always seem to be comprised of equal parts resignation and rejoicing, and the mid-tempo shuffle of the songs works perfectly whether one's settling in for the evening or preparing to take the town by storm. In a word, balance.

In 16 words, The Houston Brothers is one of the best albums released by a local band in ages. And the words, the words: the opener, "Lovin You is Such a Drag," manages to reference cruising the mall, learning to shag, being over the hill at 28, "flying the rebel flag," and cocaine, all in a little over four minutes. "Roll in the Dunes" manages to simultaneously seem sunny and subdued, thanks to some beautifully rendered ennui: "We could drive to the beach/there's a lot that you could teach/about surfing after dark/and knowing where to park." The excellent, downtempo "Star" manages -- with the help of some twinkling synth -- to shine quite brightly, albeit in a crazy diamond kind of way. "This Afternoon" might be the most balanced love song I've heard all year (some might replace "balanced" with "honest"). The narrator, not apologizing for his less-than perfect self, nonetheless gets to the point by the chorus, telling his gal that "Not for all the grass in Oregon/Not for all the yen in Japan/Would I stand up and walk away/I just want to be your man." The song ends with an existential flourish: "You could have stood your ground and told me that I had to go/But you said yes/when you could have said no." "My Heart Will Go On" it's not.

Sonically, the new CD is a major step up from the brothers' last, I Take Care of You. Recorded in the attic studio of Justin Faircloth, the Liquilab Records release was then mixed by Joe Kuhlmann at 36th Street Studio and mastered by Dave Harris at Studio B. Guests include Benji Hughes (The Goldenrods), Derrick Hines (baleen, The X-Periment), Scott McCall (Two Dollar Pistols), and Mason Hedgecoth. At the heart of it all, however, is the brothers Faircloth. If you've never seen the Houstons live, you'll understand -- Justin Faircloth drums and plays organ while keeping the beat on a drum-cymbal set-up, and brother Matt plays bass pedals with bare feet while manning the electric guitar. Sound crazy? It is. But two people playing four instruments is nothing compared to how the same two people seem to become one on every song here.

The Houston Brothers and special guests will be appearing at the Steeple Lounge on Friday, June 13. For more information, call 704-333-5545.

Sometimes it's the less-than-aesthetically perfect things that seem to have the most beauty -- an old roadhouse, vines crawling up the white, paint-flaked walls. A well-worn guitar with a hole in it, thanks to constant use. And then there's The Avett Brothers. Scott and Seth Avett's harmonies on their second full-player proper, A Carolina Jubilee, work like an old muscle car that takes forever to crank but -- once the pistons start firing -- eats up the highway with gusto. Occasionally off-note, occasionally even off-key, they nonetheless manage here to sound nothing less than completely authentic and exhilarating. "The Traveling Song" is the aforementioned Hemi of the record -- it begins shooting sparks after a foot-stomp opening, finally combusting into a bunch of whoops and screams that might seem more appropriate for a Steve Albini record. "Love Like the Movies" has the narrator telling his girl that they can't be in love like the movies, as "real life is more than two hours long." "With a twinkle in their eyes, they're just saying their lines," he continues, and by the end of the song, it's apparent that she'd be much better off with what she has sitting there right beside her on the couch. The song ends with the sound of a movie projector, the film slapping all about as the reel finishes. Then there's "Me and God" a plea for being left the hell alone: "My God/And I/Don't need a middleman." As bluegrass songs go, it's rather uncharted territory.

As a bonus, there are three cuts that reference the excellent "Pretty Girl From Matthews" from the boys' last record, Country Was: "Pretty Girl From Raleigh," "Pretty Girl From Locust," and "Pretty Girl From Annapolis." (Kannapolis perhaps? Man, these guys not only know their geography, they get around!) Full of lots of saloon-style piano and flat-picked guitar, and possessing a rollicking melodic sense a la hippie rockers Moby Grape, it's music that's not so much concerned with the dichotomy between Saturday night and Sunday morning as it is with those days where everything changes suddenly -- like a breakup or meeting someone who sweeps you off your feet -- and the rest of your life. Like the brothers' harmonies, it's live-wire stuff. Who knew acoustic music could sound so electrifying?

Ramseur Records recording artists The Avett Brothers will be appearing at the Neighborhood Theatre on Friday, June 13, along with David Childers and The Modern Don Juans. For more information, call 704-358-9298. u

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