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'The Weight of Lies' and an Unforgettable Past

The Avett Brothers' reputation has been staked on its unhinged live shows, which mix a rock band's power with the frenetic speed of bluegrass. But the North Carolina trio's best songs are nuanced and incisive, showcasing uncommon wisdom for a group that might have seemed like a gimmick with lesser material.

The past looms unusually large in The Avett Brothers' songs: It often needs to be exorcised one way or another — as on last year's "Yardsale," in which the band extols the virtues of gathering up unwanted belongings and burning "what never should last." The best song from The Avett Brothers' recent Emotionalism, "The Weight of Lies" addresses memories not so easily discarded or forgotten: "The weight of lies will bring you down / and follow you to every town / 'Cause nothing happens here that doesn't happen there."

For guys who draw on so much old-fashioned acoustic roots music, The Avett Brothers' members seem notably plugged in to the way modern communications make it harder than ever to flee old mistakes. And, while the band issues a dire warning — escape is futile, after all — it once again comes down squarely on the side of staying put, seizing the past, gathering it into a pile, and setting it ablaze for all to see.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)