Written by Kyle SlagleyAfter waiting for three years, Mumford & Sons fans finally got a second round of the folk-rock-Americana that has carried the band to fame since Sigh No More was released in October 2009.
Babel, the album some listeners have been craving since before the boys performed at the Grammy Awards in 2011, was released on Tuesday. As expected, it contains heart-wrenching laments and instrumentals that sometimes sound like a runaway steam engine.
Although the musical formulas for both Sigh No More and Babel are fairly simple, the area where frontman Marcus Mumford really shines is in his lyrics. A close review of the text reveals references to Shakespeare, the Bible, and even Steinbeck while calling on the listener to maintain faith in ideals like love and redemption. Combine those themes with Mumford’s fiercely passionate vocals and the swelling instrumentals and it’s no wonder the group has exploded into multi-platinum territory in little more than three years.
Babel has been met with reviews on both sides of the spectrum. Those touting the success of the band’s second full-length album are clearly fans of the gritty formula that put Sigh No More at the top of half a dozen Billboard charts. The main criticism being that Babel’s sound does not deviate from Sigh No More at all. As far as I’m concerned, Mumford & Sons have a good thing going with a formula that clearly works; if it ain’t broken…
For those who logged on or ran out on Tuesday to snag a copy of Babel, it won’t be too long before we hear the familiar cry for more. Will Mumford really make us wait another three years? How will we manage? Rest assured there are other artists out there that can give listeners their folk fix in the meantime. Here are a few of my favorites to supplement your playlist.
Graceland by Paul Simon: Simon put this album out after spending a great deal of time in South Africa in the mid eighties. It’s a hodgepodge of musical styles, but the blend of South African mbaqanga on “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” makes this track one of the best on the album.
Gord’s Gold by Gordon Lightfoot: No folk collection would be complete without at least one of Lightfoot’s albums. As a die-hard Lightfoot fan, I can say that Gord’s Gold is a good collection that showcases his talent as a songwriter and contains some of the lesser-known tracks like “Don Quixote” and “Carefree Highway” that happen to be my own favorites.
Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes: This is the first full-length album by the Seattle group and it contains some of the best baroque-folk I’ve heard. Fleet Foxes enjoyed local success around the Northwest but received quite a bit more acclaim in Europe than the U.S. I recommend them as one of the best indie-folk groups you’ve never heard.
Flaws by Bombay Bicycle Club: Lead singer Jack Steadman has a voice reminiscent of Iron & Wine as is evident on the first track, entitled “Rinse Me Down.” While Bombay sports a different tone than Marcus Mumford, it’s still a good choice for when a mellower sound is wanted.
Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down by Noah and the Whale: The best part about this English quintet is by far the feel-good tone. On this debut album, listeners get a chance to hear the uplifting nature of the band’s music. Interesting fact: Laura Marling, former girlfriend of Marcus Mumford, was a member of the band until 2008, when she left to pursue a solo career a few months after this album was released.