With echoes of old-timey string bands, singalong folk revivalists,boozy Americana roots rockers and big-box singer – songwriter softies, the Avett Brothers have carved out a remarkably successful 21st-century space for themselves. On each of their last three albums, producer Rick Rubin has helped shape their sound without changing the artisanal recipe. On True Sadness, however, the hip-hop-schooled song swami finally, gently, ushers the Avetts into the pop arena. Some may be startled. But given their restless ambition and Rubin’s pedigree (everything from the Beastie Boys to Jay Z to Tom Petty), the only surprise is that this move comes on what, by some measures, is their most heart-baring LP, staring down loss and fingering scars amid the good-time jams.
It’s in this elemental balancing of sorrow and joy that the band burns hottest. On the title song, a tight beat propels verses alluding to rehab, toxic masculinity and universal hurt – “The way it seems is that no one is fine,” the brothers holler on the hook. But it feels like the record’s most profound celebration – just joyous strumming, bowing and the sound of earnest voices collectively making light out of dark.