The Avett Brothers

True Sadness

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There's a melancholy to the title of the Avett Brothers' 2016 album True Sadness, but the album's tone doesn't mirror its name. Certainly, there's a bit of a sorrowful undercurrent, something that surfaces on "Divorce Separation Blues," but often there's a buoyancy to the music's spirit, a lightness that's evident even in the burnished bluegrass ballads, tunes where the harmonies and plucked strings combine into a sense of sweetness. Always throwbacks at heart, the Avett Brothers temper their rough-hewn retro affectations by brightening the corners with hints of electronic rhythms and polish, a sly update executed with precision by Rick Rubin. Despite this breezy modern air, the Avett Brothers and Rubin alike are on firmer ground when the amplifiers are cranked just loud enough to growl and the rhythms lumber along with the slow, hazy crawl of Southern rock. This heavier attack distinguishes the Avett Brothers from the ranks of standard-issue Americana -- a genre where austere authenticity often matters more than gut-level force -- but what distinguishes True Sadness from previous Avett albums is how this force intermingles with lighter moments. Sometimes this airiness is evident in ballads that indeed carry a melancholic pull; sometimes the levity derives from those camouflaged electronic elements, moments that play like sun drifting in from parted clouds. Tonally, these seemingly conflicted feelings match because they play like the sadness is slowly lifting away. Far from being an album for wallowing in the depths of grief, True Sadness is a record about the emergence of hope.

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