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Mumford & Sons

Don’t be misled by the name, the Mumford of the group may be the creative daddy but’s as far as the family ties go. The group American-born Marcus Mumford formed in October 2007, soon struck a kinship with other West London acolytes like LAURA MARLING, NOAH AND THE WHALE and JOHNNY FLYNN that saw them declared leaders of the local folk scene. This “scene” came to relatively little but spawned several real talents, MUMFORD & SONS being the most commercially successful.
Indulging in heavy touring from the get go in 2008 culminating in an appearance at Glastonbury Festival and the band released their first EP `Love Your Ground’ on both sides of the Atlantic. The band’s inclusive onstage demeanour only helped win them fans on a global scale and by the time SIGH NO MORE (2009) {*8} appeared they were making appearances on US late night TV, mostly thanks to the popularity of banjo-driven fury of `Little Lion Man’, a track which originally appeared on the aforementioned `Love…’ EP. The album was an ashamed hoedown, a stramash of instruments and boundless energy, it captured the warm, gregarious feel of their live shows perfectly.
The rollercoaster continued to ride them to stardom as `Little Lion Man’ was nominated for two Grammys (it didn’t win, but they got to perform at the ceremony and play as part of BOB DYLAN’s backing band for `Maggie’s Farm’ at the event). They have gone on to enjoy success in both Australia and New Zealand with the album, while it sold over a million copies in the UK and US – they were the first British band to do this in the States since COLDPLAY in 2008 – and it was announced from the stage at Glastonbury 2011, that a follow up was being recorded in Nashville scheduled for later in the year.
Conspicuous by their absence, one-time beau of LAURA MARLING, Marcus, was wed the following April to Brit actress Carey Mulligan; just the spur to ignite promotion for the band’s sophomore set, BABEL (2012) {*7}. Topping the charts in several countries including Britain and America (no doubt due to lead-off download hit, `I Will Wait’), the record had all the climactic and shimmering traits of its predecessor; just that their apocalyptic, balls ’n’ brimstone melange came across like a Salvation Army day out. Songs such as `Holland Road’, `Lover Of The Light’ and `Ghosts That We Knew’ will see prospective festival goers (missing the odd crusty or two) whet their lips with anticipation – and why not.
Killing time until “& Sons” pulled from the hat another multi-platinum disc, Marcus and a stellar cast of stars (including ELVIS COSTELLO) under the watchful eye of producer T-BONE BURNETT (and The NEW BASEMENT TAPES) worked on the much-anticipated DYLAN dig, `Lost On The River’ 2014).
Leaving behind their folk-rock roots for a polished KINGS OF LEON-meets-COLDPLAY-esque sound, MUMFORD & SONS returned to the fore by way of the James Ford-produced third set, WILDER MIND (2015) {*6}. Mixed reviews all round from the good (NME: 8/10), the bad (AllMusic: 5/10), and the ugly (Pitchfork: 2/10), the quartet were leaving themselves open to criticism from every angle. The change was more than apparent on the hard-biting `The Wolf’, and lost somewhere in their emotional ether were their trademark banjo-burning crescendos. Slow-into-gear and worth more than a few spins, the group’s unfettered decision to bail from the gravy-train folk scene was inevitable but commendable, and in simmering highlights `Snake Eyes’, `Believe’, `Broad-shouldered Beasts’ and the spirited `Ditmas’, fans would have to trust in this run from the pack.
Worldbeat, and African music in particular, had taken a backseat for M&S since their (and LAURA MARLING’s) collaborative EP effort with Dharohar Project in 2010. Now applying a similar scope and transition via transatlantic Top 10 EP, `Johannesburg’ (2016), MUMFORD & SONS could set the record straight in their two-day all-night stint in South Africa with Senegalese singer BAABA MAAL, Malawian-Brit combo The VERY BEST and Cape Town’s most promising, BEATENBERG. With no concessions to spirited crescendos, the opening piece `There Will Be Time’ was its tour de force, balanced only by the un-“Graceland” lilting rhythms of `Wona’, `Fool You’ve Landed’, `Ngamila’ and the emotive `Si Tu Veux’.
Preceded by moderate Top 40 hit, `Guiding Light’, and recorded in “The Church” studio with producer Paul Epworth, MUMFORD & SONS’ fourth full-set, DELTA (2018) {*7}, was well anticipated; so much so it almost scaled the charts on both sides of the Atlantic (MICHAEL BUBLE gate-crashed the party in Old Blighty). Nothing whatsoever to do with the birthplace of the blues; that indeed irked the old-hat purists, many pundits couldn’t even see a correlation with neo-folk – and that was “gospel” so to speak. The Telegraph newspaper loved it; The Guardian simply didn’t, and the continuing judge-vs-jury “Marmite effect” of the eloquent MUMFORDs was down to their loyal fanbase. Slow-burning signature crescendos, heavenly harmonies, and the odd digital dilution might’ve unsettled sandwiched headphonists in haste to get to their destination in time on an over-crowded tube, however, with the hook-line `Rose Of Sharon’, the soaring `Darkness Visible’, love song, `If I Say’ et al, were treasures worth seeking out down the line.
© MC Strong 2011/MR-GFD / rev-up MCS Dec2012-Nov2018

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