Though their roots lie in hoot-and-holler bluegrass and folk, the Avett Brothers also embraced big guitar rock early in their career. Both strains of raising Cain thread through their latest, True Sadness.
With thundering drums, rubbery bass, and Seth Avett’s cyclical acoustic guitar, opener “Ain’t No Man” is hand-waving gospel that harkens to both folk and glam rock. The boisterous “Satan Pulls the Strings” is rollicking rockabilly paired with shuddering, industrial-style synthesizers.
The Avetts often seem overly clouded with the concerns of living, hence the “sadness” in this set’s title, but here they roll with the punches more readily. “Victims of Life” catalogs crimes against others and ourselves set to sunny strummed acoustics and a mambo beat. Despite the lyrics’ litany of drug abuse and despair, the brothers’ harmonies on “Fisher Road” grow as cozy as Simon and Garfunkel’s.
Stretching the limits of their Americana-rock like a rubber band, the Avetts couple the domestic drama of the Kinks with the heartsick yodel of Jimmie Rodgers on “Divorce Separation Blues.” On “Mama I Don’t Believe,” Seth’s silvery acoustic segues to swelling country-politan strings, swarming harmonies, and crunchy electric guitars.
With its restless nautical theme, the waltz-time “May It Last” goes furthest out to sea, eschewing acoustics for sweeping orchestral pop. On True Sadness, the Avetts travel far from their rambunctious country-rock origins, yet remain tied to them—and they have never sounded more comfortable in their skins.
This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.