Ever since its beginning, no type of music has fascinated listeners quite the way Appalachian music does. Appalachian music is a unique style of music, as one song can sound so different from another. Author Bill Malone also had this point of view but it led him to conclude, “There is no such thing as ‘Appalachian music’” (Malone 115). I respect Malone’s opinion but I must disagree with him. The fact that Appalachian music is so unique gives it its own recognizable style. All other types of music including jazz, rock, pop, country, etc., have no songs that sound alike and that is how music is supposed to be. Music is about expressing one’s self or telling a story. Appalachian music is a type of music that has a lot of different instruments, people, and ideas influencing it and that is what makes it so unique. This style of music often tells a story or explains the way of Appalachian life and that is one of the main reasons so many people are fascinated by Appalachian music.
There are and have been many notable Appalachian singers and groups such as Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Blue Highway, but I chose to listen to The Avett Brothers based on a friend’s recommendation. Specifically I listened to their album Magpie and the Dandelion. I was very impressed in one aspect of their songs but had quite the opposite reaction to the other aspect.
All the songs had great music! The melodies were beautiful and very skilled. Guitar, piano, and drums featured in almost every song while instruments like the banjo and harmonica made appearances throughout the album. When I first started listening to the album, I thought the music was very relaxing. It was calming and sounded like the type of music someone would play around a campfire on a summer night. Every song except one, Another Is Waiting, was played very slowly and that may be the reason the music came across as relaxing.
As I mentioned, there was one part of the album that I did not care for. I was unimpressed by the lyrics in this album. I am a big fan of songs with strong lyrics and I must say Magpie and the Dandelion was lacking in that regard. Boring and dry are two adjectives I would use to describe them. I am serious when I say that I was not able to make it through the whole album without falling asleep the first time listening to it. The music was relaxing and the words helped put me to sleep. The Avett Brothers did not impress me with the lyrics in this album.
Many Appalachian artists try to exhibit values of Appalachian life in their songs. Malone believes this is the main reason people from around the country are attracted to Appalachian music. He said, “For almost one hundred years Americans have exhibited a romantic fascination with a body of music that seems to evoke a cluster of values and a way of life that stand in stark relief to the dominant culture of our…nation.” (Malone 114). The region of Appalachia is a place not many Americans know about and through songs, artists are able to explain what life is all about in the region. I noticed a trend in values The Avett Brothers sing about in Magpie and the Dandelion. Living a simple life and love were two values present in a majority of songs on the album.
When listening to The Avett Brother’s songs, specifically Open Ended Life, they convince the listener that life in Appalachia is simpler than life in other places in the country like major cities where the hustle and bustle control peoples’ lives. Open Ended Life is a song on the album Magpie and the Dandelion that is all about living a simpler life. This is exemplified in the lyrics, “I was taught to keep an open ended life, and never trap myself in nothing” (The Avett Brothers). From these lyrics the listener believes that Appalachians are brought up in a life where they accept anything can happen and they should not be tied down to something. Another example of simple living in their album comes in Souls Like the Wheels. The lyrics, “Souls like the wings spreading out away from bad memories make us capable of taking off and landing alive with understanding” (The Avett Brothers) conveys the idea that people are able to rise above the bad things that happen in life and that they are given the ability to forgive and understand. Being able to do something so simple is so hard for people. This adds to the ability to live a simpler life. These are just two examples from songs on the album that display the idea that life in Appalachia is simpler than life across the rest of America.
Love is another major theme present in Magpie and the Dandelion. Love is the most noticeable and most occurring theme in the album. It seems as if The Avett Brothers focused on love when creating the album because it is such a reoccurring theme. Many male Appalachian artists and other male artists from around the country focus much of their music on love and girls because it is something everyone can relate to. There is always a love song that can perfectly describe the feelings someone is having or a situation they are going through and I think The Avett Brothers were going for this. The theme of love appears in their song Bring Your Love to Me. The brothers sing, “Bring your love to me, I will hold it like a dandelion” (The Avett Brothers), and this is a line from the song that I see as the foundation for the entire album. They ask for love and they are longing for it just like everyone else. The second part of the line is the most interesting part. They use a simile comparing love to a dandelion. Both are very delicate and need to be handled with care. If you are too rough with a dandelion, the seeds will fly away and you are left with a worthless stem. If you treat love in an inappropriate way, you will watch that special someone walk away and you are left with nothing. Since love is a big theme in the album and dandelion is in the title, I believe this line is very important to the album as a whole. Another song with the theme of love is Good to You. The type of love present in this song deals with love between family members. In this case it could be between someone and their child. This is apparent in the lyrics, “When you were born I promised myself I’d always be there for you, to help you feel safe and never alone no matter what life put you through” (The Avett Brothers). This line is a perfect example of how a parent feels. They want to always be there for their child to protect them from anything that may try to hurt them. In many of the songs in the album Magpie and the Dandelion, the theme of love stands out to listeners and taking a deeper look into the lyrics can help reveal this.
The Avett Brothers released Magpie and the Dandelion, their eleventh album, October 15, 2013 as a CD through American Recordings. American Recordings is part of Republic Records, one of the largest record producers in the world. Along with The Avett Brothers, Republic Records works with popular singers and groups such as Drake, Ariana Grande, and Florida Georgia Line. While The Avett Brothers may not sell as many albums as some of the names mentioned above, Republic Records must believe The Avett Brothers are very talented if they chose to produce them along with the lines of Drake.
Seth and Scott Avett started their Appalachian band in Concord, North Carolina in 2000. It is important they are from Appalachia if they want to be viewed as an Appalachian band. Listeners want artists that are the real deal. They want artists that are from Appalachia to sing Appalachian songs. People would not like someone from Washington making Appalachian music because they are not from where the music is about. This is a reason people do not see Taylor Swift as a country star, as she is from Pennsylvania and not the South. In the album Magpie and the Dandelion, The Avett Brothers never mention a place in Appalachia. No specific names are used nor are any general places mentioned which I though was odd. I was expecting them to talk about little towns or the mountains that make up Appalachia. Because the band is from Appalachia, they are viewed as an Appalachian band and a very popular one nonetheless.
The Avett Brothers are one of the most popular current Appalachian bands. Before having the opportunity to listen to their album, Magpie and the Dandelion, I had never listened to Appalachian music before. While I was unimpressed by the lyrics in the songs on the album, I was very impressed with the music and instruments used. Living a simple life and love were Appalachian themes present in a majority of their songs. While I may not be a fan of this album or style of music, it was interesting to learn more about Appalachian music and the appeal it has to so many people.
Malone, Bill C. “Music.” High Mountains Rising: Appalachia in Time and Place. By Richard
Alan Straw and Tyler Blethen. Urbana: U of Illinois, 2004. 114-34. Print.
Republic Records. Republic Records, n.d. Web. 27 July 2016.
The Avett Brothers. Magpie and the Dandelion. American Records, 2013. CD.
“The Avett Brothers Magpie and the Dandelion.” AllMusic. RhythmOne, n.d. Web. 27 July 2016.
“The Avett Brothers on Apple Music.” ITunes. Apple Inc., n.d. Web. 27 July 2016.