Classic Americana Albums: The Avett Brothers “True Sadness”

Republic, 2016

As someone who only took a step into the Americana scene in the last 5 or 6 years, my latest choice for a Classic Americana Album is what I’d describe as a modern classic. I first saw the Avett Brothers when they performed on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon with a barnstorming rendition of ‘Satan Pulls the Strings’. Exciting and loud, it’s the exact song you want blasting from your car when you’re driving down a busy street. Trust me when I say you’ll have people turning their heads.

The standout of the album is the stand against the tide song ‘Ain’t No Man’. It’s a song all about self-motivation. You have the power to do whatever you want to do in life and there is no one that can tell you differently. The feet stomping and the whole band singing together create this brilliant unified voice. The excellent vocals of Scott and Seth Avett equally add to the song. It’s the song on the LP that will get you coming back to the album time and time again.

But the Brothers don’t just do their aggressive and fun music; they also get at your emotions. ‘Mama I Don’t Believe’ does exactly that, with the brothers’ sadness and despair emphasised by the repeated line throughout the song.

‘Smithsonian’ is another great track, one that cleverly plays off the iconic Smithsonian as the brothers slowly discover parts of life and things that we go through and say ‘call the Smithsonian, I’ve made a discovery’. This clever lyricism is everywhere in the Avett Brothers music and is often what makes them stand out from other acts.

The Avett Brothers are an important band to the Americana genre and ‘True Sadness’ has everything that you want from an album. Since their foundation in 2000 they have released countless excellent records, but it’s ‘True Sadness’ that stands out. The title track itself is what the brothers do best, combining bluegrass with folk and country to create an effortless mesh of wonderful music. The brothers said that ‘True Sadness’ for them is a symbol of how ill-equipped we are of things to come and this has a special resonance in 2021.

The album was the first written after Bob Crawford’s child had cancer and Seth had gone through a divorce. It is clear that the dark themes run deep throughout it, but also they have moments where they have fun with the music. Some consider it to be one of their weaker albums, but an album that lured me into this wonderful genre will always have a place as a classic for me. The Avett Brothers aren’t to everyone’s tastes, but their variation makes this album a treat.

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