In today’s over-saturated sea of Genericana The Avett Brothers aim to bring something new to the table with Magpie and the Dandelion. In 2012, super producer Rick Rubin, who helmed both MATD and its predecessor, The Carpenter, assured that the brothers have come to “transcend any genre” from whence they came, banjo or not. Rubin’s hit-or-miss thumbprint aside, this is Americana, where lyricism is king. So how does MATD hold up?
In short, not too shabbily. There’s a lot of really predictable messages for the genre – the “Ramblin’ Man” manifesto of charming opener “Open Ended Life,” channeling 12-step redemption on “Morning Song” and “Never Been Alive,” and the classic humble-brag about wild living on “Apart From Me” and “Skin and Bones.” Still, the Avetts feel less like they’re exploiting popular post-recession sentiments, especially since these messages are portrayed in a specifically literal way. There’s no Top-40-fishing, broad-brush stroke in use here (if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor). “Good to You” is about as direct of an apology in song as you can get:
Speaking of metaphors (and similes), the boys certainly know their way around them, as seen on “Bring Your Love to Me:”
The kicker, though, is definitely “Vanity.” Especially if you’re a sucker for tracks that reflect on the narcissism inherent in writing music. And while it’ll never match the uber-catchy paragon for that message, it gets weirdly dark in the instrumental bridge. It’s one of a few moments on the album where they refuse to let you get comfortably bored with the music, elsewhere experimenting subtly with odd time and adding sprinkles of psychedelic rock.
If you’re as burnt out on the ProTools-bluegrass sound as we are, you still won’t find that they’re stretching the genre by leaps and bounds, but it’s definitely re-listenable. They’re not immune to recycling themselves – evidenced by the fact that this album borrows a track from The Gleam II – but they’re doing a great job of standing out from the herd. Er, flock. Which is easy when your peers don’t even pretend to try for originality. Just ask Macklemore.