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Sunday, July 03, 2016

ROUTES & BRANCHES  
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
June 25, 2016
Scott Foley

Time will tell if I lose some cred points for reserving my review spot for a band that sells out three nights at Red Rocks.  I think it's a good likelihood that the Avett Brothers don't need any help from the fabled "R&B bump".  But I've been tracking the band since their 2004 Mignonette album, falling immediately for their naive energy, their approximated harmonies and their heart-on-sleeve lyrical tendencies.  While national appreciation has mushroomed and production has sharpened, I would argue that they have stayed admirably true to their muse, maybe to the point of being formulaic, even on their ninth release.  True Sadness does add some unnecessary studio touches, and perhaps someday someone will see fit to release the "naked" tapes, sans all the curious studio decisions.  A glitchy electro-bass and click drum populate the otherwise excellent "You Are Mine", while "May It Last" launches with uber-lush strings and morphs into a roots band estimation of a Pink Floyd track.

But I'll remind you of my appreciation of a band that doesn't shy away from the musical sandbox.  There's no harm in exploring new directions, especially while staying true to your musical identity, and the Avetts do that in spades.  "Ain't No Man"  boasts the sound of 100 computers clapping in unison, accompanied by Bob Crawford's bass and Seth and Scott's harmonies.  It is the most good-natured moment on an album that sails along in the wake of divorce and midlife self doubt (and it promises countless opportunities for audience singalongs).  "Satan Pulls the Strings" features both banjo and electronic pulses, along with the ecstatic shouted vocals that drove their earlier sound.

More typical of True Sadness are cuts like "No Hard Feelings":  When I lay down my fears / My hopes and my doubts / the rings on my fingers / and the keys to my house / With no hard feelings.  It's a song of separation, whether from loved ones, from youth or from old habits.  These quieter moments are beautiful, and they're what the Avetts do best.  Melancholy and disappointment practically serve as 5th and 6th members of the band.  "Mama I Don't Believe" is one of the more organic moments on Sadness, with lyrics stripped to the bone and emotions on bold display:  Are we just acting / Is this the real you and me.  In "Smithsonian", they admit Turns out we don't get to know everything.

Despite the subject matter, it's by no means a downer of a record.  A spirit of acceptance and humility also haunts True Sadness.  On the title track, I hate to say it / But no one is fine.  Seth and Scott readily recognize the potentially redemptive qualities of sadness and setback, and their trademark humor and occasional goofiness are present in even the cloudiest moments.  What's more, spirituality seems to play more of a role on certain songs:  Just know the kingdom of god is within you / Even thought the battle is bound to continue.

Bottom line:  the Avett Brothers' True Sadness is by no means their Mumford Moment.  While they won't escape their part in helping to birth the faux folk movement and bands like Lumineers or Head & the Heart.  But like the Felice Brothers, there is a depth and a genuineness to their musical decisions that floats them above fleeting trends.

- Al Scorch, "Lonesome Low" Circle Round the Signs  (Bloodshot, 16)
- McDougall, "Cut Loose" Reaching for Some Light  (McDougall, 16)
- Western Centuries, "Weight of the World" Weight of the World  (Free Dirt, 16)
- Jesse Dayton & Brennen Leigh, "Two Step Program" Holdin' Our Own  (Stag, 07)
- Amy Blaschke, "Breaking the Blues" Breaking the Blues  (Blaschke, 16)  D
- St Paul & the Broken Bones, "All I Ever Wonder" Sea of Noise  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Paper Bird, "I Don't Mind" Paper Bird  (Thirty Tigers, 16)  C, D
- Frankie Lee, "Where Do We Belong" American Dreamer  (Loose, 16)
- Steve Gunn, "Ancient Jules" Eyes on the Lines  (Merge, 16)
- Patty Griffin, "Rain" 1000 Kisses  (ATO, 02)
- Austin Lucas, "Unbroken Hearts" Between the Moon and the Midwest  (Last Chance, 16)
- Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, "Headed South" Constant Stranger  (Big Legal Mess, 16)  D
- Kelly Willis, "Rollerskate Skinny" Desperate Times: Songs of the Old 97s  (Jeff Neely, 16)
- Big Shoals, "You Ain't Nothing Like the Girls Back Home" Hard Lessons  (Big Shoals, 16)
- Joe Purdy, "New Years Eve" Who Will Be Next  (Mudtown Crier, 16)
- Drive-by Truckers, "Surrender Under Protest" American Band  (ATO, 16)  D
- Ben Weaver, "Voice In the Wilderness" Stories Under Nails  (Fugawee Bird, 04)
- BJ Barham, "American Tobacco Company" Rockingham  (Barham, 16)  D
- Levi Parham, "These American Blues" These American Blues  (Music Road, 16)  D
- Kalispell, "Parting Ground" Printer's Son  (Cartouche, 16)
- Tallest Man on Earth, "Time of the Blue" Time of the Blue  (Merge, 16)
- Rosanne Cash, "Child of Steel" 10 Song Demo  (Capitol, 96)
- Shovels & Rope, "I Know" Little Seeds  (New West, 16)  D
- Massy Ferguson, "Dogbone" Run It Right Into the Wall  (Proper, 16)  D
- Kurt Vile, "Box of Rain" Day of the Dead  (4AD, 16)
- Southern Culture on the Skids, "Just How Lonely (live)" Doublewide and Live  (YepRoc, 06)
- Left Lane Cruiser, "Crackalacka" Beck in Black  (Alive Naturalsound, 16)

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