The Avett Brothers, "True Sadness" (Republic Records)
A quiet, deep sigh opens the loveliest tune on The Avett Brothers' terrific new album, "True Sadness."
It might reflect the wistful tale of a romance Seth Avett pines for in "I Wish I Was." But it could be just the opposite — the kind of expression you'd make in the presence of something exquisite. And that describes this album, the 11th from the North Carolina alt-folk band with the homespun hipster sound.
It's their first studio album since 2013, and there's an undertone of melancholy on many of the 12 tracks, marked by the brothers' haunting harmonies, Scott Avett's plaintive banjo picking and Seth's soulful guitar. The elements blend sublimely in the laments of "Fisher Road to Hollywood," punctuated by Joe Kwan's achingly beautiful cello. It's classic Avetts at their best.
But in these poetic songs of love and loss and life there's also a tone of resolve and affirmation. It's there in the plucky "Divorce Separation Blues," with a Depression-era sound complete with Seth's authentic yodeling. And it's loud and clear in "Ain't No Man," the April-released single, a hand-clapping, foot-stomping anthem to overcoming fear and anger, hate and hardship. The Avetts stray from their more folksy sound here, and its refrain — "There ain't no man can save me ain't no man can enslave me" — will stay stuck in your head, in a good way.
The orchestral "May It Last" is another departure, with its waltzy beat and dream-like interludes, but the familiar harmonic verses keep it all grounded.