Tuesday 12 January 2010

Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More

The Americana music scene has rather dominated the folk/rock end of the musical spectrum so it has been pleasing to see acts like Noah And The Whale reclaim something for the Brits and to develop our folk traditions away from the kind of bearded, folksy strumming that certainly turns me off from the more traditional folk sound. Mumford & Sons are fronted by Marcus Mumford and completed by Winston Marshall, Ben Lovett and Ted Dwane (needless to say, they are not his sons!). Their robust sound and Mumford's gravelly tones mean that if you found Fleet Foxes lacked cojones or NATW a bit fey then this album might be far more to your taste.

The opening title track has all the harmonised voices you might expect from Fleet Foxes but is soon bolstered by a heavy sounding drum, organ and even a banjo. The first line, 'Serve God love me and mend,' is a quotation from Much Ado About Nothing and it isn't the last time that the lyrics have a slightly portentous air. In fact I only have a couple of tiny quibbles about this album so lets get those out of the way. Those lyrics can sometimes be highlighted by the rigid way that Mumford often sticks to rhyme and meter. What this means is that sometimes that places the stress on the wrong parts of words which can sound a little clumsy. You could also say that a few of tracks on the album follow a similar structure so that despite the varied tunes and arrangements there is something a bit samey about it. These really are tiny things though; the lyrical journey on the album is bold and poetic and the music ranges from the rousing to the reflective.

The festive period and current cold snap make Winter Winds an apposite track and its joyful combination of ukelele and brass section make it one of the standouts. There are foot stompers like Roll Away Your Stone (one of many religious references amongst the lyrics) and Little Lion Man, quieter moments like the male harmony driven Timshel and album closer After The Storm, and some tracks that do both like I Gave You All or personal favourite Thistle And Weeds. Musically the band's love of country, folk and bluegrass provides the dominant sounds with just enough edge to keep folk-sceptics interested. Any album that manages to make a banjo sound cool must be doing something right. The live performance below will give you the idea as well as hinting at the power that the band have in the flesh.


Max Cairnduff 6 October 2010 at 11:49  

Possibly the most hated band on the Guardian music pages comments sections, which is no small achievement as those folk hate everything.

It's a good album. They are a little constructed, but then so are most bands so I'm not sure why that bothers me with folk. Some expectation of authenticity perhaps that I would never apply to Vampire Weekend or Phoenix.

I agree with your review, including the criticisms. I only really have one quibble.

The banjo has always been cool.

William Rycroft 6 October 2010 at 12:11  

People really do hate them don't they. I can't imagine why it's worth getting so worked up about them, maybe the gap in between Coldplay releases leaves the detractors with little else to do. Having said that, I haven't listened to this one since I reviewed it.

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