Like on previous records The Carpenter and I and Love and You, The Avett Brothers open Magpie and the Dandelion with a song about moving. A song about pulling up stakes, heading out on the road, and trying to find your place. “I was taught to live an open-ended life, and never trap myself in nothin’,” the brothers sing. With the new record, their eighth full-length, The Avett Brothers pick up almost right where they left off with The Carpenter, traveling just a little ways down the road.
“Morning Song” is a standout number that follows the opening of the record. Beginning with just an acoustic guitar and one vocal track, the song slowly builds, adding drums, bass and piano, before erupting in a call-and-response refrain with a chorus of voices. The rollicking single “Another is Waiting” and the beautiful, piano-driven ballad “Good to You” are favorites as well. One of the most interesting parts of Magpie, though, is the inclusion of a live version of “Souls Like The Wheels,” the studio version of which previously appeared on the 2008 EP The Second Gleam. It’s somewhat of a strange decision, but the sparse acoustic song and the emotional performance both are really quite moving.
Coming out of the same Rick Rubin-produced sessions as their last release, it’s understandable that Magpie and The Carpenter are somewhat similar in sound and tone. However, don’t think of these tracks as a collection of B-sides or numbers that were cast off from The Carpenter’s workbench. Like most of the band’s previous work, Magpie and the Dandelion continues to explore time-honored themes like love and loss in all their many forms. But where The Avett Brothers of records like Emotionalism or I and Love and You often seemed emotionally overwhelmed by the gravity of the issues they sang about, on Magpie the brothers seem a little more confident. It’s a transition that can be clearly seen over the course of the last three records as well. Consider the list of desires and subtle fears in I and Love and You’s “The Perfect Space” or the admission of insecurity of that album’s closer. Then compare them with a statement from The Carpenter like “If I live the life I’m given, I won’t be scared to die.”
Earlier in their career, the great unknowns of life seemed to leave the brothers awestruck and perhaps a little frightened, and understandably so. Who can say they haven’t been there before? But over time, they’ve come to accept the fact that you don’t have to have all the answers to get along in this world, that “a life lived in fear is a life half-lived,” to quote Baz Luhrmann. Even on some of the more heavy-hearted Magpie tunes, the boys seem to be rolling with the punches a little easier. In “Bring Your Love to Me,” for example, the lovelorn singer claims he can go on without the object of his affection if need be. “If it’s meant to be, I will go alone—God knows I can—just not as well,” he sings before coyly adding, “And besides, what kind of fun is there to be had with no one else.”
Magpie and the Dandelion as a whole takes on a carefree attitude that seeks to revel in all life has to offer. It’s a solid record that showcases all of The Avett Brothers’ talents and captures them, as well as their songwriting, in an interesting emotional place on their journey further down the road.