The Avett Brothers, ‘Magpie and the Dandelion’

“Magpie and the Dandelion” gets four out of five stars.

Mack Hayden , Writer

It’s odd to say a folksy, bluegrass group is ahead of their time, but that’s exactly how things shake down with The Avett Brothers. Since 2000, they have been masters of a pop-accessible folk song format, which has grown to mainstream popularity on the backs of Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers. It’s not to say the Avetts are inherently better at their craft because they’ve been trying their hands at it the longest. As a matter of fact, their original sound has stagnated a bit on their last couple releases. The most refreshing thing about “Magpie and the Dandelion” is how much it sounds like it could be a debut.


I’d be in the critical minority to suggest their recent work has been lackluster in any particularly condemning sense. Their last album, “The Carpenter,” was released to almost exclusively positive reviews and the record before that, “I and Love and You,” housed some of their most memorable songs. “Magpie” marks the third album they’ve recorded with legendary producer Rick Rubin and his influence shows as brightly here as it did on the previous two records. Rubin gave the Avetts a studio sheen their earlier work didn’t have. Whether that was the best or worst thing for them is up to the listener to decide.

The best part about “Magpie and the Dandelion” is how well it straddles the line between their old rootsiness and their new emphasis on production. All the songs here were recorded during the same sessions as everything on “The Carpenter,” but the brothers did well in separating the two albums. Where “The Carpenter” focused mostly on mortality and growing old, “Magpie” has the sound of a youthful jubilee — for that matter, the same sort of youthful jubilee found on their earliest records, up to 2007’s “Emotionalism.”

If “The Carpenter” was a swoon, “Magpie” is a stomp. The album starts off with “Open Ended Life” and it sets the tone for everything to follow musically and lyrically. Any Avett Brothers’ record is notable for how life-enriching it is. You get the sense they rarely approach the art of record making as anything less than the seamless creation of a how-to manual for life.


Their melodies and harmonies, their instrumentation and lyricism always sound like comfort on a journey you’ve taken so far on your own. And, big surprise, the comfort they offer is more brotherly than fatherly. Life is open-ended and hard to understand. Love is lost and won without many even batting an eye. What the Avetts offer here is another great arm around the shoulder. They’re your brothers as well as each other’s. Telling you like it is, admitting their part in the struggle too, giving you a helping hand when you’re in the slums, having a good time — these are all things brothers do best, and these brothers do best of all.

The album alternates between heartwarming ballads and upbeat barnstormers. Still, of late, their ballads have been a little less folky and a bit too sentimentalized. “Magpie” is the first record by the Avetts in a while where they reach the same sort of acoustic caliber of balladeering as they once did on tracks like “The Weight of Lies” and “The Ballad of Love & Hate.”

“Magpie and the Dandelion” strikes a chord for how much it sounds like “Emotionalism,” perhaps the Avett Brothers’ highest accomplishment. “Magpie” is emotionally evocative and so delicately tender at times you could cut it with a butter knife. In other moments, it’s the liveliest thing they’ve done in a long time. It’s got something for everyone.


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