The Avett Brothers
The Avett Brothers (photo by Crackerfarm, courtesy of Republic Records, PR)
The Avett Brothers
American Recordings/Republic Records
There is a core honesty about The Avett Brothers. This inherent quality has endeared them to their fans since the band's start over a decade ago, back when they were a simple trio—bassist Bob Crawford and brothers Seth and Scott Avett. As honest and true as any great American success story, The Avett Brothers built their careers on good old-fashioned sweat, creative drive, and a seemingly bottomless well of talent.
Even in the group's early days, releasing albums on the indie North Carolina label Ramseur Records, there was a remarkable polish and professionalism that complemented their grassroots approach, simultaneously making them relatable and respectable. The Avetts' music certainly drew from its Southern roots, but their bluegrass-inflected tunes were tempered with punk undertones and a dash of Beatlesque pop too. Their clever lyrics delivered humor, hope, and raw, personally reflective themes.
For fans of the band since those days, it has been amazing, yet totally unsurprising, that they are now a headlining arena band on a major label. Famed producer Rick Rubin has been behind each of the Avetts' past three albums and with the release of True Sadness, that number has increased to four—nearly half of their catalog.
On this ninth album, The Avett Brothers take another major step forward, recording with the largest lineup yet—the band now includes seven members. They sonically push their boundaries, announced immediately with the brave, stomp-and-clap opening of the album's first track, “Ain’t No Man." But there is another clear evolution woven into the 12-song collection. Their fundamental honesty is now more personal and observationally open with even more heart (and heartbreak). Perhaps this is just a product of life lived—and the joys and trials that go with it.
True Sadness has a warm intimacy that we may only have caught glimpses of before. “No Hard Feelings" is about the brevity of life and the importance of forgiveness: “Hard feelings/they haven’t done/much good for anyone/kept me afraid and cold/with so much to have and hold/Under the perfect sky/I’m finally learning why/it matters for me and you/to say it and mean it, too." The song's repetitive, mantra-like closing line—“I have no enemies"—resonates.
Similarly, “Smithsonian” approaches life lessons, but with a dose of their signature humor: “Call the Smithsonian/I’ve made a discovery/Life ain’t forever and lunch isn’t free/loved ones will break your heart with or without you/turns out we don’t get to know everything."
There are love songs (“You Are Mine”), songs of temptation (the funky, Nine Inch Nails-inspired “Satan Pulls The Strings”), and one of the best songs about divorce in recent memory, complete with yodeling (“Divorce Separation Blues”). Beautiful acoustic moments abound too, as on "Fisher Road to Hollywood," harking back to a classic Avett Brothers sound. Even while singing the upbeat title track about finding “True Sadness” in everyone, The Avett Brothers also sound full of hope.
But beyond that, The Avett Brothers are revealing a clear view to our shared human nature. However flawed, there is nothing truer—and more honest —than that.