Firmly entrenched in the mellow SoCal groove they established since truncating their name, the Dirt Band continued to roll softly on "Make a Little Magic," their 1980 follow-up to their modest 1979 hit "An American Dream." Thanks to the Rodney Crowell-penned title track, "An American Dream" gave the Dirt Band their first single to flirt with the Top Ten since "Mr. Bojangles," as "An American Dream" peaked at 13, but "Make a Little Magic" actually wound up charting higher than its predecessor, reaching 62 where Dream went to 76. "Make a Little Magic" followed the template of the sweet, soft "American Dream" to a T, thanks in part to backing vocals from Nicolette Larson, who also reappears on "Do It! (Party Lights)," another minor soft rock gem. About half of Make a Little Magic easily fits within the parameters of super-slick soft rock but there are times that the Dirt Band pushes a little harder, harnessing a bit of an arena rock edge here and there, notably on the guitar-heavy "Badlands" (not a Springsteen cover), "Anxious Heart" and "High School Yearbook" an agreeably silly subversion of rah-rah nostalgia that finds cheerleaders turning into call girls while "macho Johnny" starts wearing little sister's clothes "wrapped up in a world of pantyhose/but he's doing what he wants to." While the intent of the increased energy is appreciated -- as is the delicate acoustic closer "Mullen's Farewell to America," a passing nod to their more progressive beginnings -- the album is at its best when things are a little bit softer, whether it's on that pair of Larson-graced pop tunes or the lightly skipping "Too Good to Be True," even if occasionally the group seems just a bit too stuck in their soft groove, as they do on "Leigh Anne."
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine