New album True Sadness is a confessional set of songs, revealing in many ways and vulnerable in many others, and featuring a heady though straightforward sound that emphasizes the basics – acoustic guitars, bass, cello, drums and keyboards.
BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Over the course of their career, the Avett Brothers evolved from their unassuming North Carolina origins to major label success, accompanied by a rabid following that’s made them festival staples and affirmed their populist appeal. Their much anticipated new album, True Sadness, released last week on Republic, boasts a heady though straightforward sound that emphasizes the basics – acoustic guitars, bass, cello, drums and keyboards.
Nevertheless, the band has been expanded (in addition to core members Seth and Scott Avett and bassist Bob Crawford, the group currently includes, cellist Joe Kwon, Paul Defiglia on keys, drummer Mike Marsh and fiddler/violinist Tania Elizabeth), and the sound that results is, by turns, both effusive and heartbreaking, flush with remorse and reflection.
With legendary wunderkind Rick Rubin overseeing the proceedings once again, True Sadness finds the Avetts wistful, no-frills approach further heightened by the irresistible strains of cascading choruses that seep deep into the consciousness and linger long after the last notes finally fade away. Nevertheless, there are undeniable strains of sadness seeping into this new set of songs, due in part to the severing of Seth Avett’s marriage and the travails that resulted in its wake. The evidence is apparent, not only in the title of the album, but also in the names of songs, “Divorce Separation Blues,” “No Hard Feelings” and “Victims of Life,” among them. If there’s self-pity present — and there are hints to be sure — the melodies provide adequate compensation, whether it’s in the affecting embrace of “Mama, I Don’t Believe,” the homespun sentiment of “Smithsonian” or simply the honesty and affection that pervades “I Wish I Was” and “Fisher Road To Hollywood.”
Ultimately, True Sadness is a confessional set of songs, revealing in many ways and vulnerable in many others. However, honesty has always been an inherent element in their sound, so in that sense this album’s no different.
Still, for all the joy they once seemed to celebrate, True Sadness documents the realities of life, and the need for perseverance as well as purpose.