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The Avett Brothers

True Sadness – 2016 (Universal Republic)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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The Avett Brothers shows oftentimes offer some of the best bluegrass-inspired instrumental music around as brothers Seth and Scott surround themselves with highly skilled players. Albums, on the other hand, can sometimes be a significantly different matter. Songs on the new "True Sadness," for instance, reveal this act's well-developed introspective side.

Sonically, "True Sadness" finds the group exploring beyond its rootsy, Americana expectations. The title track kicks off with a rhythm that sounds a lot like the early hip hop works producer Rick Rubin once applied to his pioneering rap productions. They sing in a most confessional manner on it, "I still wake up shaken by dreams," and later add, 'No one is fine." The song even includes a verse that empathizes with the plight of an adult film actress. "Is she not more than the curve in her hips?" they ask us. We all feel pain. We all suffer sadness, they remind us. Furthermore, "May it Last" diverts from roots rock, by delving into music more classically inspired.

The Brothers are not any kind of gospel group, but spiritual lyrics are sprinkled throughout; none more explicitly than the single "Satin Pulls the Strings." Its lyric describes a scenario where a man is trapped in a puppet box where the evil one himself "pulls the strings." It's seemingly an analogy for temptation.

Love (or lack thereof) of the far more secular variety is considered with "Divorce Separation Blues." With it, they sing about a marital breakup over an old timey acoustic groove that would make Jimmie Rogers proud. It even features some yodeling.

It is this album's overwhelming sincerity that ultimately makes it so doggone compelling. At the risk of sounding like Linus in the pumpkin patch, there isn't an ounce of insincerity as far as the eye can see. "True Sadness" is chockfull of sad truthfulness and never pulls any punches.