Written by SHAUN SMITH Saturday, September 29, 2012 12:00 am
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"Babel" the latest album from Mumford & Sons is unabashed, full of bravado and banjo.
The British-born band creates original music in the tradition of music native to both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Led by Marcus Mumford (lead vocals, guitar and drums), the band can be described as bluegrass or folk, but neither would be accurate. Both influences, as well as jazz and Celtic vibes, can be heard throughout the 12-track (15 tracks on the Deluxe Edition) album produced by Markus Dravs. It cannot be coincidence that the early inception of the album was in 2010 in Nashville, but the roots of "Babel" are exposed when the lead singer pronounces the word BAY-bull.
I thoroughly enjoyed the sophomore effort that followed Mumford's 2009 debut "Sign No More," which reached platinum in the United Kingdom four times and twice again in America. (An album must reach 1 million sales in America and 300,000 sales in the United Kingdom to reach platinum status.)
That American following only grew after Mumford & Sons performed with Bob Dylan and the Avett Brothers during the Grammy Awards last year. Since their arrival, their audience has been clamoring for more.
The first few songs are a continuation of the tone of the band's first full length album. There is a familiar rock 'n' roll rhythm setting the foundation for layers of instrumentation and topped by Mumford's crisp and sometimes gritty voice. On “Hopeless Wanderer,” the lyrics are unfiltered and delivered with a warm harmony.
"So when your hopes on fire
But you know your desire
Don't hold a glass over the flame
Don't let your heart grow cold
I will call you by name
I will share your road”
- Hopeless Wanderer
One of my favorite aspects of the band's intimate sounds is created by expanding the lower register of bass notes. Spirited songs like "Whispers in the Dark" only encouraged me to test the limits on my subwoofer.
The songs are lyrical in every sense; although they are not taken directly from the Celtic tradition (as the band is often mistaken for being Irish. Many of these songs are journeys, not unlike a bluegrass or country jam.
The album includes both the fast-paced tunes like the title track, "Babel" as well as the piano-driven "Ghosts That We Knew." Between soft ballads and boot stomping rock songs are tracks like "Lover of the Light," which a show the band's ultimate freedom to explore the bounds of its genre; that is to say it can't fit into a well-defined category.
On some tracks, I heard similarities to modern folk acts like M. Ward as well as established rockers U2. It could be said that Mumford & Sons followed the path laid by the Kingston Trio and then blazed their own trail.
The harmonies displayed on "Lovers' Eyes" are both beautiful and haunting. These songs are timeless. The subjects are unapologetic. Loves are won and lost and triumph over daily drudgery makes me believe this is a revitalization of the "angry young men" that came about in 1950s English literature.
"A constant reminder of where I can find her
Light that might give up the way
It's all that I'm asking for without her I'm lost
But my love don’t fade away"
Mumford has said the band developed its arrangements while touring for "Sigh No More," which may explain why this album has a tireless quality. Every chance I get I put on “Babel” and continue to enjoy it each time. I think you might too.
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