The Avett Brothers’ Magpie and the Dandelion: Album Review (by the Brothers Guard)

After an eight month music fast, moving to a bigger city and staring a new job (Luke), after listening to all my favorite bands I had before the Avetts (Caleb), and after several months’ worth of listening, meditation, and more listening, the Brothers Guard sit down for a dialogue review of Magpie and the Dandelion.

“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.”
-The Avetts

Caleb: I was worried about this one so soon.  I began to think of it as a “B-Sides” album, and still do, in a way.  This is the one Avett Bros. record that had to grow on me the most.  There is a young and bright explosion of happiness we could see coming out of it before we even gave the full thing a listen.  After The Carpenter built his coffin and dwelled there, he sprung back to life like a summer Dandelion.  At leas, that’s how I build the narrative of this “2-part album”.

Luke: I was worried about the Bros. after The Carpenter more than anything. That was a tough album. Even though it had it’s glimpses of hope and light and innocence, I felt like it was the coldest and most painful of the Brothers’ albums. It hurt us to listen (in a good therapeutic kind of way), so I know how much it must have hurt for them to put it together. I was glad to hear Magpie and the Dandelion was coming out instead of Vulture and the Poison Oak. I and Love and You was late summer/early fall. Carpenter was an icy cold winter. Welcome to warmer weather.

C: The images of the magpie and the dandelion are mentioned among the songs, but their spirit dominates the album, representing a kind of innocent, optimistic grace that is unpretentious and heartwarming.


“Open Ended Life”

I get the feeling things have changed
but the mystery to me
is where and when along the way
did anyone decide that they believed me

C: This song echoes of the beginnings of both The Second Gleam and I and Love and You.  The song marks the duet as a phoenix, burning away the old and starting a new, continually.  The first sound of an album is important.  It’s the first impression.  This is the first time the first sound they give us is electric, and it’s bold for the brothers.  It reminds me of the beginning of Everybody when Dave announces that he “did it”, he completely changed his style, risked sacrificing his integrity as an artist for the sake of trying new things.  This album opens apologetically: No regrets, we’re trying new things because it was in our blood from the start.  And then just to prove they’re not fooling around, they go honkytonk blues on us, only to put it back down and pick back up the fiddle.  And this is just in the first track.

Pack a change of clothes and a pillow for the road
for when you drift off to sleep
Put the sketches and the notes in the box
labeled ‘burn with furniture’

L: I love the first sound; it caught me off-guard and made me a little uncomfortable. Felt like listening to Jack Johnson’s To The Sea for the first time. But then things starting feeling a little more ‘like home’ for the Avets, with words of ‘packing’ and ‘burning’; it reconnects us to Yardsale and I and Love and You. And I appreciate that. I wonder if it’s not their way of nodding to the past—as they always do—and letting us know that they’re ready to move on—as they always are—from the pain and paradox of The Carpenter. And not only is it okay for us to move on too, but they want us to come with them. They’re growing and changing, cause that’s what we earthly creatures do. I’d be worried if they weren’t. As far as the sound goes: Electric Harmonic Fiddle. Yes.

“Morning Song”
Her name became
The flame unto the fire
A magpie on the wire […]
I fell into the hive
Shamelessly alive until the dawn 

C: Just like with the second track of I&L&Y, this one reminds you that these are indeed the same old boys, the same boys who wrote and sing “Shame” and “St. Joseph’s”.  But they are remind you that they have grown into their new shoes.

L:Agreed brother. Even though they’ve changed and grown and do things differently now than they used to, it’s all part of a movement back to who they really are—or who they want to be at least.

C: They’ve earned the right to a harmonized chorus song that almost borders on 80’s anthem cliche-hood, were it not for the tongue-in-cheek-ness about it, too.  Singing about finding one’s melody alone: With a large chorus singing right behind you.

It’s all right
if you’ve finally stopped caring
Just don’t go and tell someone that does

L: This is one of those that must have matured over the years. It could’ve been recorded two, three, four albums ago, but I’m not sure if it would’ve meant the same to them then; or to us.

“Never Been Alive”
Money won’t do the trick
But it will help to open the doors we need it to
to help someone else

C: Almost surreal and drunk.  You?

Still we won’t need it to turn things around

L: Maybe. He has been thinking about drinking again after all. I don’t know though. I first heard this at last show of theirs’ I went to and I remember thinking it was political maybe. Not necessarily in a useless or disrespectful kind of way, but a more hopeful one that maybe only Bob Dylan and the Bros. in a tavern could understand (that’s surreal). I shared this with a friend who was in our group that night and she thought it was more spiritual than anything; spiritual in a way that is gentle and honest, which was very humbling. Not sure if either of us were right that night, but I’m sure Bob and the Bros. know.

“Another is Waiting”
It’s a fake, it’s a con
the nature of the road you’re on
lets me see your skeleton
well before your life is done

C: Now see, even their cynicism is hopeful.  They even take their punches with smiles.

But I love you and I care
so you’ve got to get off that conveyor belt,
If I could,
I would come right in and take you off myself

L: Someone—or no one—somewhere—or nowhere—needed this; and the Bros. knew that. Which is the best reason to do anything in life. So to those who were rescued, saw the light and got out: good for you.

“Bring Your Love To Me”
Bring your love to me
and I will hold it like a dandelion

C: I immediately loved this dreamy, lie-back-and-sigh song.  I really felt like I was slowly drifting across the wind on a dandelion while Seth sang to me.  Yes, you can quote me on that.

Just not as well, and besides what kind of fun is there
to be had with no one else?
And I can only stand here still

L: That thing he does, between …to be had with no one else? [and] And I can only stand here still… God knows you can Seth, and you did it, whatever it was. I’m done. And yes, you can quote me on that too.

“Good to You”
I know you were needing more of me than I gave
when we heard that your cousin had crashed and passed away

L: This is the one I couldn’t stop singingIt’s so honest and genuine and true. This does feel like the foundation or centerpiece of the whole album. I think the song itself matures and hopefully we having witnessed it, mature as well. Thanks Bob.

C: I almost feel like the album was built around Bob’s song because they weren’t quite ready to sing it before, or it wasn’t mature, until after that somber period of recording The Carpenter.  He’s not as talented of a singer or lyricist, but Bob’s verse comes out just as honest, and even more real, like a letter written to a daughter.  And if you know his story, the depth of the song really sinks into your heart.

As I listened over the phone-line,
you talked and you sounded so sad
Alone in a room full of strangers,
some dude saying I treat you bad
Who is this guy and what does he know?
Apparently more than I do

“Apart From Me”
I was lost as lost can be
Being praised for being found
But all that praise got lost on me
as the mood swing was headed down

C: Listen to this ragged old tune, reminiscent of “February Seven”, only softer and less poppy.  In fact, the two songs could have traded places on the two albums.  I wonder why they didn’t.

L: This may be the most poetic of the bunch. Layers. Like an onion, or a cake. Layers. Love it.

Part from me
I would not dare take someone in love with me
where I’m going
Apart you’ll see
how true it is and how back then
it possibly was impossible for you or me to know it

“Skin and Bones”
It’s quick to drag you in but hard to shake
It gives but doesn’t match how much it takes

C: About barely hangin’ on, or maybe just about getting tired on the road, not just physically, but emotionally.  And at the end of shows having to then deal with the hungry crowds who demand that they not change their style.  Having dropped that “curse on your own last name”, and bearing it all the way.  Have they meditated too much on the prices of their success?

I built the fence, I hung the sign
Wine/Blood-red letters saying ‘keep in mind
where we’ve been so don’t come in’

L: Vintage Avetts. Have you, brother, meditated too much on their prices of their success? Skin & bones, tin & boards.

“Souls Like the Wheels”
One little girl
Bring me life from where I thought it was dark

C: I like artists who aren’t afraid to record a different (or just live) rendition of a previous song for a new album.  In this case, it’s one many fans wouldn’t know, and should be introduced to.  This also makes the album feel more like a B-side to the previous, almost like they’ve collected songs previously unreleased, and yet they all have a certain unity to them.  What also shines is the fact you can tell this is the perfect live version of this song, and you almost imagine they decided to record it only once and this was the best performance of it Seth ever gave.

One little song
Give me strength to leave the sad and the wrong
Buried safely
In the past where I’ve been living
Alive but unforgiving

L: Amen. This was a pleasant memory. What’s so bad about a B-side anyways? I’ve got my B-side. Sometimes you know what you want to say but you’re just not ready to say it yet. And you’re right, as many times as I’ve heard this live and on album, I think this recording is his best. Good choice. Let me go.

I have plans for the day
but it’s all vanity, it’s all vanity

C: Even when they get all nihilistic on this album, they do it with a kind of cavalier flare.  Like, “so what?  It’s all pointless….so keep going.”  And even on such a lighthearted album they provide their token random dive into heavy rock. Also had an “Alice down the rabbit hole” feel to it.

I’ve got something to say
but it’s all vanity

L: Things just got biblical; but also nihilistic. Is this what they call post-modernism? Glad they added some weight here, helps balance out the album. Also brother, I felt like I was playing one your early 90s video games during the riff.

C: Playing one of my—why I oughta—FYI, if it was postmodernism, they wouldn’t even be certain that it was vanity.

“The Clearness is Gone”
The first time we fell for it we blamed it on youth
And now we get hell for it and blame it on truth

C: It’s like they’re helping us say goodbye to the album, an album full of clearness.  Makes it feel like this album came out of nowhere, struck us blind one morning, and quickly vanished.  Then you lift the needle and give it another listen.

Well, your hair fell on me like I dreamt that it would
when I dreamt your hair was long

L: Not sure how we ended up at this honky tonk-esque place, but I like it. I think Bob’s sitting over in the corner singing along (even though you can’t understand a word he’s saying) and thinking of how he’s never been alive like he is now. Neither have I Bob. Neither have I. It is a good and fitting goodbye.

C: Hey Luke, do you ever wonder if there’ll be a third gleam?

L: Third gleam? Maybe. Sometimes I feel like Rick [Rubin] is so forward thinking and innovative that he wouldn’t encourage it. Not that he’d limit them, because I think he’s been a big part of growing them to be them, whatever that means and however it sounds. I could be wrong though, perhaps the next ‘gleam’ will be more of a cosmic radiance and less of a subtle shine. Down with the shine.

The music video for “Another is Waiting”

The brothers have put out another album that carries its own spirit, this time, very bonded to the spirit of the previous album, yet taking on a life of its own.  We get the same blend of folk rock and alternative, that “grungegrass” that has recently morphed into a more poppish, electric-and-drum sound.  It is a little on the mainstream side, and we get very little of that rawness of their previous years, but can you blame them if it’s what they feel like doing?  It’s one thing if you just feel like selling yourself out for more cash; its another if you find yourself in a more accessible mood.

Be loud.  Let your colors show.

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