The most reliable artist producing good folk music is not Mumford & Sons and it’s not Bob Dylan. It’s actually the other band that performed with those notable names on The Grammys a couple years back: The Avett Brothers.
But perhaps the group is a little too reliable. Though there’s a lot to enjoy on “Magpie and the Dandelion,” what the album lacks is variety. There are two styles of song here: slow folk ballad and up-tempo toe-tapper.
Does that come from producer Rick Rubin. Since Rubin, best known for his hip-hop productions, entered the life of the band, their albums have become more focused, but that may have come at the detriment to the band’s wilder, more fun side. Don’t get me wrong: I really enjoy “Souls Like the Wheels” and slow ballads like it, but I could go for something like swelling like “Head Full of Doubt” or a fun rocker such as “Paul Newman vs. The Demons.”
Even without a diversity of song, the album gets by wonderfully on the bands musicianship and songwriting skill. There’s a clean, clear sound here, and I enjoy that the Avett Brothers don’t need an echoing crackle as if the record was recorded inside a campfire or a banjo on every track in order to sound authentic. They let their unaffected melodies and voices speak for themselves.
Lead-off track “Open Ended Life” and mid-album song “Good to You” are the album’s most touching moments. Much like the opener of 2009′s “I and Love and You,” “Open Ended Life” is about packing a change of clothes, hitting the road and leaving things open. “Good to You” is about the consequences of such a life up to and including what happens to your personal relationships. It’s hard to be good to someone when you’re not there.
Recorded live, “Souls Like the Wheels” is another favorite that glows with a sparse acoustic guitar melody and Seth Avett’s quiet voice pleading to “let me go/let me go.” Anyone who enjoyed “I and Love and You” from the album of the same name will have a lot to enjoy.
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