It's impossible to avoid the inevitable clichés, and dodge overused adjectives, such as "unbelievable," "excellent," "breathtaking," "unique," "vibrant," and worst of all, "refreshing," when describing this album because Dolly Varden is all of these and more. An alt-country band out of Chicago that vacillates between a Gram Parsons-early-Eagles sound, a Cowboy Junkies vibe, and something else totally original.
The band's founders, husband and wife singer/songwriters Steve Dawson and Diane Christiansen were the buzz of the underground country scene ten years ago billing themselves as Stump the Host, but with Dolly Varden, they have kicked things up another notch. Christiansen's vocals are like a hybrid of Susanna Hoffs and Linda Ronstadt, if you can imagine that, and the music runs knee deep in mood swings, from the ethereal "Some Sequined Angel" and "Balcony" to the power pop of "Second Chance" and "I Come to You." But it all fits together, like pieces in a dime-store jigsaw puzzle, creating one scenic landscape of sonic elegance.
"Apple Doll" features an almost oriental sounding guitar riff that will stick with you like honey on your skin, with resplendent harmonies, and an understated musical foundation that sets the mood for the country strains of "The Thing You Love Is Killing You." One of the most addictive doses on the record is the title track, "Dumbest Magnets," with intense lyrics like: "Your nervous laughter is contagious/My will has broken down in stages/We've scraped the bottom of the block together/The dumbest magnets hold together."
Dumbest Magnets is a departure from the band's ultra-somber The Thrill of Gravity a couple of years ago, in that they are rocking things up just enough to make it interesting. It's refreshing.