Avett Brothers - True Sadness

by James Weiskittel Rating:7 Release Date:2016-06-24

Few things are more satisfying than that of a band consistently meeting (and/or exceeding) expectations.  The Avett Brothers have been churning out one folk/Americana classic after another for the better part of a decade, with each of the Avett’s last three albums (I and Love and You, the Carpenter, &  Magpie and the Dandelion) scoring big with radio and garnering the band an ever-growing fanbase.

And so, not unlike just about every other by-way-of-grassroots mega band, the Avett Brothers (featuring brothers Seth and Scott along with mulit-instrumentalist Bob Crawford and cellist Joe Kwon) found themselves looking for a new direction when it finally came time to discuss the creation of what was to become their ninth album True Sadness.

The band once again decided to look to famed producer Rick Rubin for some direction, hoping that the he could guide the band beyond their comfort zone.  Multiple versions of each song were recorded in various studios across the country, sliced and diced and remixed again and again.  And while the process definitely yielded a somewhat (at times) different sound for the prolific band, the results could hardly be categorized as ‘reinvention’, as while True Sadness does contain a twist (or two), the album is still chock full of that classic Avett sound.

Album opener and leadoff single “Ain’t No Man” is a fairly good indicator of what the Avett’s meant by ‘new sound,’ with its faux-bleacher stomp and heavily processed mix that undoubtedly left longtime fans wondering where the rest of the band was (but has been a huge crossover-hit nonetheless).  Meanwhile, songs like the title track (“True Sadness”) and “Divorce Separation Blues” more closely resemble the band as they were, albeit with a larger, more souped-up sense of production.  

The intimacy that one could associate with previous releases is missing at times on True Sadness, replaced with a more modern, dare I say ‘chart-ready’ sound that works in some places (“Satan Pulls the Strings” is a mid-album gem) and not so much in others.  But while the band may have dipped their toe in the ‘mainstream music’ pool, they couldn’t quite commit to jumping all the way in, and instead wound up creating an album that, for all of its strengths, feels a little incomplete.  

Not unlike last year’s Mumford & Sons release, the Avett Brothers sought to push the envelope of their sound by ditching the folk instruments and embracing their laptops.  But where Mumford & Co. may have all but abandoned their fan base, the Avett Brothers seem content to relegate the experimentation to a mere handful of tracks on True Sadness.  And while their longtime audience will certainly be split on how they perceive this change, the true value of this artistic gamble will ultimately be measured by how many new fans they are able to accumulate.  

Regardless of how much staying power True Sadness will ultimately have, you can at least dance to it; after all, isn’t that what all the kids really care about nowadays?

 

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