Avett Brothers to play at Great American Ballpark

Photo: from left to right: Joe Kwon, Scott Avett, Bob Crawford, Seth Avett

By Alan Sculley

The Avett Brothers have been on quite a musical journey of evolving their sound over the past decade, going from a trio playing acoustic guitar, banjo, and stand-up bass to what is now a seven-member lineup that can build considerably on the group’s scrappy, stripped back acoustic beginnings.

The big shift came with the 2009 album, I and Love and You. Produced by Rick Rubin, it found the Avett Brothers retaining their acoustic foundation, but broadened their instrumental and stylistic reach to the point that the group could no longer be considered simply folk nor acoustic.

The next two albums, 2012’s The Carpenter and 2014’s Magpie and the Dandelion, continued down that path. And now, Seth Avett, who started the group with his older brother Scott in 2000, feels the latest Avett Brothers album, True Sadness, represents another leap forward for the group.

“This one’s a major one in terms of me reframing what I think the Avett Brothers sound like,” Avett says of True Sadness in a recent phone interview. “I hope, what I feel like is happening, is we are opening ourselves up further, further, and further in the aesthetics, to have no boundaries while hopefully staying heavily rooted in what makes us us, which is by and large some version of story telling, I think.”

True Sadness, which was released in June 2016, is the most sonically adventurous, most instrumentally diverse – and arguably the most stylistically variedn– album yet from the group. Recorded with the current seven-member touring band (bassist/fiddle player Bob Crawford, drummer Mike Marsh, keyboardist Paul Defiglia, cellist Joe Kwon, and fiddle player Tania Elizabeth), the songs touch on a myriad of styles.

There’s stomping pop delivered with bass, drum, and a ragged choir on the first single, “Ain’t No Man.” “You Are Mine” takes jangly folk-rock and gives it a jolt with a big, fuzzed up bass line and sprinkles of keyboard. “Fisher Road” is a gentle and pretty finger-picked acoustic ballad. “There Is A Sea” sounds like it was written for an epic western or sea-faring movie soundtrack with its lush, swelling strings and expansive melody.

Even with that variety, True Sadness sounds very much like an Avett Brothers album, mainly because many of the songs (“Roof Over My Past,” “Mama,” “Smithsonian” and “No Hard Feelings”) still have the acoustic folk and rough-hewn rock foundation that defined the early music of the group. Avett agreed with that assessment.

“You can’t change your beginning. You can’t go back and change where you’re from. It just is what it is,” Avett said. “Our skeleton is the acoustic guitar (played by Seth Avett) and the banjo (Scott Avett) and the stand-up bass (Crawford, who joined the Avetts in 2002), and our stories and our romanticism and me and Scott’s voices. That’s what we are at our core. So I think as long as we don’t disgrace that or completely turn our backs on that, I think it will come through.”

The two Avett brothers remained the songwriters on True Sadness, but Avett says the other band members, more than ever, brought their influences and ideas to the table and had a big hand in how the songs grew from their bare bones beginnings to the versions heard on the album. For the most part, Avett says, the songs developed organically as the other musicians got involved.

“We have, I think, a very good, very natural sort of rhythm within our communication where Scott and I are able to present our visions for a song,” Avett says. “You just have faith in the players and you don’t have to micro-manage everything…I think we all have enough experience where we can come to a great agreement, normally without saying anything at all.”

That sort of musical chemistry and communication has been developed through four-plus years of touring. And while shows of recent vintage demonstrate that the seven-member lineup is plenty potent live (a recently released concert disc, Live, Vol. Four, offers a good example of the group’s live sound). Avett, who recently supplemented his work with the Avett Brothers by releasing IV, his fourth solo album under the name Darling, feels the group has plenty of room to grow as a live unit.

“We have not really fully embraced what is possible here with this band. I mean, seven people with more than a few that are multi-instrumentalists, there’s a lot that can be done,” Avett says. “I know we’ve embraced it a little. But over the last couple of years, we’ve worked up kind of outlaw country songs, a Harry Belafonte song, we did a Beyoncé song for a little while.

“Sometimes it starts feeling like we really could be presenting something with a lot more breadth than we have so far,” Avett says. “Now, we’re a little bit, we’re committed to our original material. That in and of itself is going to be kind of a stew of a lot of things. But man, it’s so fun to dig into something that seems really out of our comfort zone and then realizing we can actually present it because of this band. So I think we’re just beginning to get a handle on what we might be able to do.”

The Avett Brothers perform after the Cincinnati Reds game on Saturday, Aug. 26 at Great American Ballpark, 100 JoeNuxhall Way, in Cincinnati. The show will begin approximately 20 minutes after the game ends. For more information call the Red’s at 513.381.REDS or visit http://m.mlb.com/reds/tickets/concerts/avett

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Alan Sculley
Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at AlanSculley@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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