Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My 2013 Top Ten Albums

The Avett Brothers -- Magpie and the Dandelion
"Morning Song"

Okay, I take it back. Even if the Avett Brothers do overshadow the Wood Brothers, I still love them, and I'm thrilled that they keep releasing albums at such a pace -- why, weren't they on this list just last year?

Now let's keep all the Americana kids straight -- Mumford & Sons feature a banjo, and the Lumineers have a cello, but the Avetts give us both, a yearning deep cello groove with the bluegrassy banjo chattering away on top. The Wood Brothers have Oliver Wood's distinctive vocals, but the Avetts double up with two brothers trading lead vocals, Seth's sweet and tender voice playing against Scott's earnest grit. They've got an impressively versatile sound, while always staying in the Americana wheelhouse; they rock things out when they want to, but it always feels authentic and handmade, which IMHO is a good thing.

If anything, 2013's Magpie and the Dandelion feels more personal than last year's The Carpenter, giving us a window onto lives lived, hurts weathered, and happiness found. Many of the songs are about relationships, which as you all know is a whole lot different than being generic love songs. There's the gobsmacked-by-love Never Been Alive and the hopeful new beginning of Bring Your Love To Me, counterbalanced by the feisty Another Is Waiting and the humble apology of "Good To You." But the one I can't get out of my head is "Morning Song":       

We're definitely in heartbreak territory, from the very first line's mournful yelp: "Hurts so bad / You don't come around here anymore." If this were a song about pain and rage, we'd stay there. But it isn't; it's about coping and moving on, finding the light at the end of the tunnel (the "morning" of the title). In other words, Music for Grownups.

The song doesn't downplay how rough his dark night of the soul has been -- "I've been thinking / About drinking again," he confesses; in the third verse, things dial down to bare acoustic to reprise that opening line with the ruefully rambling "Hurts so bad / More than I expected that it would / Worse than that, it seems be / Lasting just a little longer than it should." This thing has really knocked him off his pins.

But he's started to get some perspective on his infatuation, remembering in retrospect how "The magpie on the wire warned of love." (Always a good sign when you find the album title embedded in a lyric.) And as the song moves on, his focus is less on her and more on pulling himself back together, underscored on the album track with a determined drum kick and testifying organ. No trying to win her back, no rehashing the break-up itself; it's done, it's over, and he's accepted that. Now where does he go from here?  

There's still a sniping edge of blame in the refrain: "It's all right if you finally stop caring / Just don't go and tell someone that does." He's been left holding the bag of love, and that's painful; there'll be a scar there, making it harder to risk his emotions the next time.

But he knows that nobody else can fix this for him -- he's got to "do the work," as shrinks are fond of saying. "Even though I know there's hope in every morning song / You have to find that melody alone." That word "alone" is packed with double meaning -- alone as in "find it for yourself," yeah, but also alone as in "lonely." (Though the backing vocals signal that he's not as alone as he thinks.) Bottom line: it's hard to "do the work" when you're still wounded, but suck it up -- this is life.     

Like I said, Music for Grownups. Love it, love it, love it.   

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