Let's toss aside any preconceived notions of "they haven't been the same since working with Rick Rubin" or "big labels have only given them polish." Everyone's aware of the raw grit of the Avett Brothers' early work and the slight pop and rock infusions of the band's three American Records/Rick Rubin-produced efforts -- I and Love and You, The Carpenter and Magpie and the Dandelion.
Each album, while compared to previous works, should also be looked at independently. On its own, I and Love and You was stellar. The Carpenter showed the band spreading its wings into electric territory while still offering honest lyrics and approaches. Magpie, to me, was little more than a collection of B-sides and Carpenter leftovers. And now we have True Sadness, the band's ninth studio album and, in many ways, a return to its roots. It's not only a refocused effort on more of its acoustic beginnings, but a homage of sorts to Seth and Scott Avett's gospel upbringing. "Ain't No Man" has that big sing-along energy in its stomp-and-clap presentation. "Satan Pulls the Strings" brings the listener to church -- an 1800s, wood-pewed church that's having its demons exorcised by David Childers. "Victims of Life" sounds like a tribute to Paul Simon with its acoustic strumming and Latin rhythms. "Divorce Separation Blues" offers a bit of introspection from Seth Avett, though perhaps the yodeling is a bit much.
It's easy to bring up a shark cliche and suggest the band needs to move forward to stay alive and can't be still, but the Avetts have found a way to continue moving forward without losing their identity. They could have easily gone the Mumford route and plugged it all in and gone for arena rock bombast. Instead, The Avett Brothers continue to remain steadfast in their talents and songwriting without forgetting who they are or where they cam from while using the talents of a fuller band having long grown from the trio they started out as.