Seth and Scott Avett, the North Carolina duo known as The Avett Brothers, returns with a strong 9th studio album True Sadness. The record, produced by Rick Rubin, offers a bold interpretation of its title, delivering a more digestible and bearable experience of sadness — an album that arguably presents a realistic depiction of life’s upheavals and turns.

‘True Sadness’ by The Avett Brothers Album Review

The Avett Brothers carry on even more confidently in their carefully crafted bluesy Americana. With just a few minor tweaks, they are able to build on the identity they have already established while venturing out into new horizons. After 16 years of slowly making a name for themselves with stripped-down acoustic ballads, The Avett Brothers take a step in a more mainstream direction on True Sadness — a feat that the year-long, big-name producer Rubin, who is behind some of the works of Kanye West and Lady Gaga must have facilitated with ease.

What remains is the duo’s poetic lyricism and ability to tell a good story through their music, all of which they do over more intriguing and varied sonic textures. This makes their most recent album sound less brooding than former ones, while preserving an authentic sensitivity.

Opener “Ain’t No Man” with its pronounced clap-rhythm and upbeat tune seems ready to rock festival crowds. Right off the bat, it showcases the band’s transformation and search for a more mainstream identity. It largely fails to deliver even a hint of the “sadness” that the album title promises, but this track is so catchy and amusing that it is easy to forgive the mild “deception.”

Slow-tempo tracks like “No Hard Feelings” and “I Wish I Was,” on the other hand, are more of a testament to the classic Avett sound – guitar and banjo melodies accompanied by ageless folksy vocals. Thematically, the album touches on familiar tropes and experiences – unrequited love (“I Wish I Was”), divorce (“Divorce Separation Blues”), life and death (“No Hard Feelings”), the road to fame (“Fisher’s Road to Hollywood”).

The production sustains the melancholy of the lyrics with counterbalancing touches like swelling orchestration and rhythmic accents. The end result is an introspective and vulnerable but not necessarily morose atmosphere. Upbeat tracks like the country-rooted “Smithsonian” and title track “True Sadness” provide a lighter tone, while surprisingly electronic elements on “You Are Mine,” “Satan Pulls the Strings” and closer “May It Last” set out into a completely new territory for The Avett Brothers, which proves to be a largely successful move.

On True Sadness it is sometimes hard to tell what “sadness” means for the duo. Perhaps it is a certain kind of nostalgia inspired by their tentative break with their country, rustic roots in favor of a larger, more ambitious sound and orchestration.

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