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• 10/9/2013

Magpie and the Dandelion — First listen review

The Avett Brother's new album Magpie and the Dandelion just became available to stream on NPR's First Listen 49 minutes ago and I've already listened to it all the way through once.

Go and give it a listen before reading on — my first listen review, below, might spoil some of the fun musical surprises they included on this album. 

Magpie small

I'd like to start by thanking the band for this album. It's such a gift, especially considering their last album, The Carpenter came out just 13 months ago. Although this album isn't my all-time favorite album (it switches between Emotionalism and Mignonette depending on my mood) there are some real gems on it.

Because I'm a die-hard Avett Brothers fan (and the admin of this site) I've heard all but two of these songs by now so there were no real surprises on my first listen. The two I hadn't heard before — "Bring Your Love To Me" and "Good To You" — are more of their slow and personal songs but with great catchy riffs and bridges. I'm sure I'll grow to appreciate them but for now they seem slightly awkwardly wordy. The solo by Bob Crawford in "Good To You" was a nice treat — his vocals are slightly underutilized in most of their album. But then again I'm the kind of Avett fan who loves "The Day That Marvin Gaye Died." 

"Morning Song" by The Avett Brothers

"Morning Song" by The Avett Brothers

As for the songs I've only seen on YouTube or performed for radio stations — I'm really really thrilled by "Open Ended Life" and "Morning Song". Both of them are grand, sweeping songs that make full use of their entire band. While "Open Ended Life" strays slightly more into the country genre that the Avetts often toe I know this will be one of the songs I frequently scream-sing in my car or in the shower. The banjo, harmonica, and electric guitar solo in the middle is so much fun. I've loved "Morning Song" ever since I heard them play at Red Rocks in July of this year. The chorus at the end was an incredibly delightful surprise. It's one of the best parts of the song to sing, after all.

I've had a YouTube rip of "Never Been Alive" for over a year now and it's still one of those songs that I'm not crazy about. I think it's the emotional disconnect between the lyrics and the tempo — the words are joyful but the tune is somber. They've been playing this at their concerts since 2009 and since I'm seeing the band three times over the next four days (in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, then San Francisco) maybe a live rendition will get me to love it. It seems that I have a new "top favorite" Avett song after every show of theirs I see.

The Avett Brothers 'Another Is Waiting' Official Lyric Video

The Avett Brothers 'Another Is Waiting' Official Lyric Video

The Brothers have been promoting the new album with "Another is Waiting" and "Vanity" as their two singles and they're just phenomenal (and unfortunately short.) The extended solo by Scott that was played on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon a few weeks ago was great – I hope that's the extended Demo version on the deluxe edition.

"Apart From Me" is more mellow than I wished it'd be. I liked the version they played on The Current earlier this summer. It's still a great song. "Skin and Bones" makes up for it by being livelier tune. It's one of the strongest tracks on the album.

Souls Like The Wheels

Souls Like The Wheels

"Souls Like the Wheels" is slightly disappointing since it is just a live version. It originally appeared on 2008's The Second Gleam and although I love the song I was hoping this version would be a re-imagining now that the band has Joe Kwon, Mike Marsh, and Paul DeFiglia to give their song a fuller sound. Anybody have any idea what show this was recorded from?

Because I'm a dork I've managed to track down a digital transfer of the track "The Clearness is Gone" form the exclusive "Live and Die" 7" that came bundled with The Carpenter deluxe box set last year. I love love love the song (it's one of my most listened-to iTunes tracks of all time) and I'm ecstatic that the rest of the world gets to hear it now and the Brothers may play it at their live shows.

11 songs, all of them amazing in their own right. What do you think of their new songs? Any new instant favorites?

Don't forget to preorder Magpie and the Dandelion!

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• 10/9/2013

Great review, Ohmy!  I agree with almost all your thoughts, and I'm really digging the album so far.  It's too early to tell, but I think it has the potential to be my favorite of the Rick Rubin albums.

1. Open Ended Life - This was the song I was most looking forward to hearing.  It's been my favorite unreleased song since they started playing it in 2010, and I was disappointed when it wasn't on The Carpenter, so I'm glad it's found a home.  I am not the biggest fan of this arrangement, mostly because it sounds a little too "FM radio mainstream country" for my tastes, but a great song is a great song, and I'm sure this recording will grow on me.  Maybe the demo that is included with the TopSpin pre-order will be a little closer to how they introduced it at their live shows.

2. Morning Song - Love this song!  Even though it's a ballad, it's got such a great energy.  The band really excels at these mid-tempo ballads.

3. Never Been Alive - I agree, I'm not crazy about this one either, but I do enjoy the spacy production on the album version.  It really highlights the mellow jam, Pink Floyd-nature of the song.  I think this is one where you just have to be in the right mood to listen to it.  I can see this being my new "bathroom break/beer refill" song during the live show.

4. Another Is Waiting - Catchy, upbeat, poppy.  I little poppier than I prefer from the band, but I personally think it's light years better than "Live and Die."  I'm glad it's so short, though I did like the Fallon performance with the bit of "Another Youngster" thrown in the middle.  

5. Bring Your Love to Me - This is the only song I had not heard before.  What a pleasant surprise!  The little banjo riff, the falsetto, the melancholy warmth of the song all hit my sweet spot.  I can definitely see this being one of my bucket list live songs -- one that they don't play often but when they do it's incredibly special and memorable.

6. Good to You - I've been listening to a 2006-2007 era live recording of this a lot lately and wondering how it would sound on the album.  I'm pleased to say that it's much, much better on the album.  They replaced the banjo with piano, and now I can really connect to the lyrics and the meaning a lot more.  The rare but always welcome appearance from Bob on vocals is the best he's ever sounded.

7. Apart From Me - I agree with you 100% on this song.  Their live renditions led me to expect something else from this song.  It is a gorgeous tune though, and if this was my first time hearing it I think I would fall in love with it instantly.  As with "Open Ended Life," maybe the TopSpin demo will be closer to the version that people are more familiar with.

8. Skin and Bones - Finally!  I know that this is another one that a lot of people have been wanting on an album since 2009.  This recording is a perfect translation from live show to album.  Great banjo, great harmonies, great song.

9. Souls Like the Wheels - Recorded at their 9-29-2012 show at the Fox Theatre.  
My reaction to Souls Like the Wheels

My reaction to Souls Like the Wheels

I'm very conflicted about this one.  It's a very special, beautiful tune, and I love it dearly.  However, I wish this version wasn't on the album.  I will probably always skip it.  The reasoning being that this live recording will forever remind me of all the many times I've been at shows and the drunk d-bags in the crowd just can't shut the hell up during Seth's special, intimate performances.  I don't know if people get uncomfortable or restless when they are confronted with such quiet reflection or what, but I wish it would stop.  Anyway, off my soapbox now.

10. Vanity - I love it whenever the band changes dynamics mid-song (see also: The Perfect Space, Salina, Pretty Girl From Chile) and this is such an awesome, dark rocker in the middle.  Couple that with honest lyrics about personal shortcomings and you've got an instant Avett classic.  It's no wonder they've been playing it so much at the live shows recently.

11. The Clearness Is Gone - Such a great slow tempo rocker, and a perfect way to close the album.  I love the extended electric guitar solo in the middle.  For some reason, this one always makes me feel relaxed.

Personally, I would have loved to see "Late In Life" finally make an album, especially since I think it would have given the middle of the record a nice shot in the arm, and the new arrangement would be a nice bookend to "Open Ended Life."  I would put that in place of "Souls Like the Wheels."  But other than that, a super solid album from beginning to end.  I can't wait to hear these tunes live!

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• 10/9/2013
Far2bowen wrote:

Personally, I would have loved to see "Late In Life" finally make an album, especially since I think it would have given the middle of the record a nice shot in the arm, and the new arrangement would be a nice bookend to "Open Ended Life."  I would put that in place of "Souls Like the Wheels."  But other than that, a super solid album from beginning to end.  I can't wait to hear these tunes live!

I'm ashamed to say I hadn't heard "Late in Life" until you mentioned it — but that's one great song! There's a really solid Vimeo version that you can download as an MP4 then convert to an MP3. I love finding new songs by this band — I'm constantly surprised. :)

Late In Life - The Avett Brothers - December 2008

Late In Life - The Avett Brothers - December 2008

I have to admit "Bring Your Love to Me" and "Good to You" have both really grown on me.

Good find on the "Souls Like the Wheels" recording date! Where you at that show? Is that your video? :-)

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• 10/9/2013
Here's the Vimeo link: http://vimeo.com/2674593
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• 10/9/2013
I have that version of "Late in Life" as an mp3, and I listen to it a lot!  I believe that version was considered for inclusion on Emotionalism, though I'm not sure if they ever actually recorded it.  They did record a rockier new version of it for I and Love and You, though it obviously didn't make the cut for the album.  ("Standing With You" and "Die Then Grow" from the Target release of The Carpenter were also takes that were ultimately cut from the I&L&Y album, and not actually recorded during the Carpenter sessions.)  Whenever they play "Late In Life" live now, they play the new arrangement, which I feel would fit perfectly on Magpie.  
Avett Brothers "Late In Life" Muffahalle, Munich, Germany 03.08

Avett Brothers "Late In Life" Muffahalle, Munich, Germany 03.08.13-0

I was not at the St. Louis show where they played "Souls," but I sure wish I was!  To my knowledge, that is the only time they've ever played that song live.

Thanks for all your hard work, I love the site!

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• 10/9/2013

Thank you for your kind words! I want to have a page for every song and album, but it is kind of time consuming. 

Fascinating about the I&L&Y / Carpenter recording sessions. I had no idea. :)

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