Critical Voices: The Avett Brothers, Magpie and the Dandelion

October 17, 2013

“Let’s find something new to talk about / I’m tired of talking about myself,” Seth Avett sings in the opening lines of his band’s most recent release, Magpie and the Dandelion. Candid as always, the Avett Brothers confess in this moment the fear that keeps any well-established band up at night: How do we create something new, but stay true to ourselves?

If there is an answer to this question, the Avett Brothers seem to have found it somewhere in the rock-n-roll and folksy twists and turns of their latest creation. Though the album departs somewhat from the raw, energetic tone of their earlier work, it is marked by the same profound honesty that has always been the power behind their music.

Magpie and the Dandelion opens with the lively, bluegrass sound of “Open Ended Life,” a track that seems to invite the listener along for a lyrical ride with the band (“Pack a change of clothes,” Seth sings). Its energy, however, cannot fully obscure the doubts about the future that slip into the lyrics, even this early on the album: “I can’t stand the unexpected…my trust has dwindled down.”

Indeed, this upbeat beginning soon gives way to a slower, more contemplative mood. And as the music transitions into the soft, acoustic sounds of “Morning Song” and “Bring Your Love to Me,” the shadow of pain in the first song slowly builds to full-blown heartbreak and despair.

This punch-in-the-gut emotion comes to a climax in “Good to You,” a simple, piano-based track placed midway through the album. The images of missed moments in this song—a funeral, a wedding, a daughter’s childhood—capture the immense guilt of letting someone down who desperately needed you. The sadness and uncertainty in its closing lyric, “If I come home/Will you still want me to?” are impossible to miss.

Without a doubt, Magpie and the Dandelion has captured something new, but it does so in the same unabashedly candid style that so many have come to love. No, it’s not the same Avett Brothers who exclaimed “I wanna love you and more!” (“Live and Die,” The Carpenter). But music, like the people who create it, isn’t something static. It’s about change, it’s about growth, and above all, it’s about honesty.

Ultimately, Magpie and the Dandelion captures the truth it was meant to: it’s not about being perfect. It’s about being real.

Voice’s Choices: “Bring Your Love to Me,” “Good to You”

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