I started preparing this tirade after The Avett Brothers released The Carpenter last year. Every time I put The Avett Brothers on shuffle, it was all I needed as proof of producer Rick Rubin’s slow ruination of my beloved folk rock/pop/country band.
“Rubin has over-produced, glossed over, and thoroughly destroyed the raw charm of Seth and Scott Avett!” I’d shout to the heavens. “What happened to the screaming a la ‘Colorshow,’ the raw emotion we felt in ‘Laundry Room’? Where is the soul?”
And then I’d cry and spend the rest of my sad, sorry life trying to move on. So in a sense, when Magpie and the Dandelion dropped this week, I found myself feeling a little disappointed that my long-winded rant is all for naught.
That is, I like it. A lot.
I like the way the ballad “Good to You” borrows a piano phrase from the Beatles song “Norwegian Wood” to sweetly declare a wish to be better. I like the callback to classic Avett stock—the bare guitar and voice building with cello, piano, drum and bass into a catchy refrain—in “Morning Song” and the inclusion of actual classic material in a live version of “Souls Like the Wheels,” from the 2008 EP The Second Gleam.
In the opening track, “Open-Ended Life,” the brothers croon, “I was taught to live an open-ended life, and never trap myself in nothin’.” While I don’t think this album is a complete departure from the issues of over-production or glossiness in The Carpenter in any way, I do think they have moved steadily into different, if not totally new, territory.
Magpie is more a rumination on the past than the past three Rubin albums. Where I and Love and You explored deep and seemingly current insecurities and fears, and Carpenter presumably did nothing (seriously, I hate it), Magpie is a new step in the brothers’ emotional journey. Here they seem more able to take the hits with grace, to look back at past mistakes with some degree of separation and to accept new love.
Even the lows are less dark than they are thoughtful. It “hurts so bad but…it’s alright if you finally stop caring,” Scott sings. “I have to find that melody alone.” The gloss is still there, the album still feels slicker than the past, and that’s probably here to stay. We are unlikely to ever find an album made of the same rough cloth of ‘07’s Emotionalism or even 09’s I and Love and You, but I guess I’ll forgive and forget and keep following the brothers as they find new melodies and continue to grow.
Other albums (vaguely similar to Magpie) that dropped this week: The Head and the Heart, Let’s Be Still; Paul McCartney, New; Cass McCombs, Big Wheels and Others; Miley Cyrus, Bangerz (oops no just kidding don’t do that).