The first three songs on 'The Carpenter,' the new studio album from the Avett Brothers, might be as close to perfect as one will find on a country (or country leaning) album in 2012. All three stick with you like a first kiss with the love you're meant to share your life with. You're dying to repeat it again and again, sure you'll never grow weary.

'The Once and Future Carpenter' begins the project and provides a rare moment of optimism from the otherwise dark diary of Seth and Scott Avett. "If I live the life I'm given / I won't be scared to die," is the line one remembers, but like so many of the 12 songs on the collection, there are rewards for digging deeper.

"And my life is but a coin, pulled from an empty pocket / Dropped into a slot with dreams of sevens close behind," the story goes in the third and final verse.

'Live and Die' and 'I Never Knew You' (songs No. 2 and 5) add some much-needed pop to the lamenting ballads that satisfyingly fill 'The Carpenter.' The former joins the banjo-driven 'Down With the Shine' as the most accessible to modern country fans.

Lyrically, this group makes a listener work harder to unravel the point or the message. 'Down With the Shine' is about ending the exhausting chase for material pleasures, but it takes more than a passive listen to figure that out. Fortunately, the production is catchy enough to warrant that second spin.

Death and winter are two themes that reoccur frequently and often simultaneously on 'The Carpenter,' but nowhere better than on 'Winter In My Heart.' This song could have been a career hit for George Jones, Glen Campbell or Hank Williams 30, 40 or 60 years ago. Scott Avett's pain is timeless.

"It must be winter in my heart / There's nothing warm in there at all / I miss the summer and the spring / The floating yellow leaves of fall," he sings with effortless emotional vacancy.

Later, he holds nothing back in what he calls his most vulnerable moment, singing about his love for his children on 'A Father's First Spring.'

"I never lived 'til I live in your life / My heart never beat like it does at the sight of you, baby blue, God blessed your life / I do live less I live in your life / I do not live less I live in your life."

The final three tracks step back from the gloom before the feelings stirred in 'A Father's First Spring' have a chance to echo through one's soul. The punchy 'Geraldine' is an awkward transition to 'Paul Newman vs. the Demons' (a punk-rock song), and finally, the underwhelming 'Life.'

Joe Kwon's cello may be more than many traditional fans of country music are ready for, as it dominates cuts like 'Through My Prayers.' It's important to remember at this point the Avett Brothers weren't aiming for country Main Street when they created 'The Carpenter.' However, the results of their recent pain and suffering have the potential to rumble around an open-minded fan's conscience for quite some time.

4.5 Stars

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