Turns out, when The Avett Brothers recorded their Grammy nominated 2012 release, The Carpenter, their cup runneth over with creative inspiration, and a second, sister album was born. Partnered with producer Rick Rubin for the third (or, one might say, still second) time, The Avett Brothers eighth LP, Magpie and the Dandelion, is the obvious extension of The Carpenter, with polished, vocal-forward sound that has been specifically built for your well-balanced home stereo system.
My cherry-poppin' Avett Brothers album was the sophomore release, Carolina Jubilee, back in 2003. I fell in love (yep, like the movies) with their homegrown, romantic cadence, and the simple earthiness of their sound. Over the last ten years, the band has evolved through Pretty Girls at the airport and around the world, and they have grown in layers. Specifically, moving from a simple three piece collective, strumming away with raw unpolished verve, to the layering of drums, bass, guitar (yes, even electric!), banjo, fiddle, piano, harmonica, an orchestral string section, digitally smoothed out vocal harmonies and what sounds like a full chorus, all recorded flawlessly in a plush studio. As a result, Magpie and the Dandelion is soft around the edges, much like a dandelion itself. At first listen, the album is a bit at odds with the expectation of those who have cherished the organic, true grit of previous Avett records like Mignonette (2004) or Four Thieves Gone: The Robinsville Sessions (2006).
From the band: "If you think about a Magpie, it's a bird from the crow family. You can see them everywhere, and they've got this strange grace. And, we all know what a dandelion is. It reminds you of being a kid and watching a flower come apart on a summer day. There's a youthful wonder in that. Those kinds of feelings live and breathe inside this album."
In the spirit of youthful wonder, I listened again. "Open-Ended Life", the track, is a sophisticated jam that blends altcountry and rock in a way that had me bopping irresistibly around my kitchen - with a well deserved shout out to the harmonica and fiddle for dancing with me. "Another is Waiting", the pre-released single which Jon Dolan of Rolling Stone called, "…the bluegrass-fed Weezerian rocker…", brings a millennial message of the dangers of plastic life on the conveyor belt into harsh relief. There are elements of the clean pop sounds of The Beatles on "Good to You" (Norwegian Wood, anyone?). In "Vanity", the Brothers find a familiar pleading tone, albeit without the desperate edge of "Sorry Man", from Carolina Jubilee.
At the end of the day, Magpie and the Dandelion is a worthy offering from The Avett Brothers and a welcome addition to the collection. In truth, I'm better off for having listened again.
Listen to Magpie and the Dandelion when: It's a sunny midmorning and you can turn up the stereo with no one to bother and nowhere to go.
- Jess Lusher