Magpie and the Dandelion came out of the same sessions that produced last year’s The Carpenter, but this is clearly not a collection of outtakes. It is at once more intimate and less emotionally freighted than The Carpenter, permeated with issues of independence and commitment instead of life and death. In the only references to its title, a heartbroken sad sack recounts the magpie on the wire warning him of love on “Morning Song,” and the narrator of the gorgeously-plucked guitar-and-banjo ballad, “Bring Your Love to Me” promises he will hold their love “like a dandelion.”
In other words, Magpie and the Dandelion is about the process of gaining enough maturity — internally balanced independence — to make love last. It’s a classic topic that reiterates how much the Avetts are a classic band. The intricately interwoven strings and keyboards are rooted in vintage pop-rock; like The Jayhawks, the Avetts have absorbed the individual and group efforts of CSN&Y, especially the slightly ominous template of early Neil Young, and “Good To You” blatantly cribs from The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood.” When they resort to the jangly, declamatory vocals and rat-a-tat drums of indie pop on the first single, “Another Is Waiting,” the difference is jarring.
If you’re going to stand out from the pack playing time-honored music about time-honored subjects, the tunes have to be greater than the sum of their parts. That’s where the Avetts have nearly always succeeded, and Magpie and the Dandelion — which feels both universal and autobiographical — is no exception.