They call themselves gentlemen of the road. Marcus Mumford and his band of multi-instrumental “sons” –– Ben Lovett, Winston Marshall, and Ted Dwane –– only record albums part time. Their primary business is touring and performing live.
It’s been three years since the English folk-rock quartet Mumford & Sons released their debut album “Sigh No More.” The platonic “Cave” and punchy banjo rock anthem “Little Lion Man” soon crossed the pond and invaded American airwaves.
Mumford & Sons wrote much of their sophomore album, “Babel,” on the road –– a sabbatical in Nashville, Tenn., produced “Lover’s Eyes” and “Hopeless Wanderer”.
America seems to have been more than just a tour location –– it has influenced the band’s style. The sweet bluegrass banjo and acoustic guitar licks over alternative rock structuring is very Americana. The band admits that the soundtrack to the Coen Brother film “Oh Brother, Where art Thou?” was the original inspiration for the band and its sonic tone. Mumford & Sons has taken classic Americana and made it their own.
They are not, however, simply a bunch of British musicians with a fancy for American bluegrass. The band goes beyond the ordinary American band and infuses a level of literary allusion: Everything from Shakespeare to Steinbeck to Homer has peppered the poetry of the band’s lyrics.
This cultural blend produces a ready medium for the painting of passions in song. Both the lyrics and presentation of the songs exhibit a raw energy and rich feeling that seem contrary to British reserve and makes Mumford & Sons instantly relatable as they grapple with universal subjects.
Love and loss, melancholy and ecstasy, self-discovery and exposure: these, and other familiar themes of “Sigh No More,” are revisited in “Babel.” The passion and poetry that made the first Mumford & Sons album such a triumph remain in their sophomore success.
“Babel” showcases the energy and raw power of a live performance. Songs like “Holland Road” and “Hopeless Wanderer” initially echo much of the “Sigh No More” album’s restrained lamentation but quickly progress to uninhibited forceful anthems. Songs like “Lover of the Light,” “Babel,” and “Below My Feet” –– songs that seem made for live revelry and performance –– set “Babel” apart from “Sigh No More.” It is a triumphant and beautiful return for Mumford and his “Sons.”