(NB: This is neither a paid promotion for the Band nor their upcoming Album which is set to be released on September 24th. I received no compensation for my view expressed here. Neither is this a particularly organized “review” per se. It is more a commentary on Music These Days. Thank You.)
A certain English Christian who goes by the name of Marcus Mumford has managed to change the world. Music has always been known to do this and sometimes changes the world for the better, sometimes for the worse. Mumford and his acclaimed Sons are no Lady Gaga. They are also no Chris Tomlin. They have more in common with bluegrass, Scottish folk, and American folk traditions than anything. It is up to debate whether all musical traditions are on equal moral standing, but I think I can safely assert that these three are no worse than hip-hop if not much better. Mumford and Sons have taken these traditions and essentially turned their back on the typical narrative for a band of the 21st century. Does this make them “hipsters?” Maybe, but if they are, what is it about them that their music has become so popular in so many situations?
One could say that it is the musical traditions themselves that they work from that attracts the people. After all, “folk” has always been the music of…folk. It is the music of the people, the music that makes a community feels comfortable. Only in this case, the community is much bigger than the large city where Mumford is from. “Mumford is the world soul and we are all his sons.” as my brother and I say, mostly in jest. And yet, it couldn’t be the folk status that they have that makes them so effective as musicians. Some people who don’t like other folk bands can’t get enough of them. Also, some lovers of folk, the true hipsters, can’t stand Mumford, asserting their popularity as a sign of decadence.
Some have also noticed a certain similarity to Christian Contemporary Music. After all, Marcus Mumford comes from a strong Evangelical background. He probably grew up listening to and playing CCM (not that I’m going to assert that outright having not asked him) In any case, as I said, he’s no Chris Tomlin and if he was, he wouldn’t be nearly as popular as he is. There is something about the CCM movement that is very insular whereas Mumford and Sons is a very open band. No, there may be similarities with the CCM, but Mumford has taken Christian musical themes and washed them in a river of scots-folk and other aforementioned traditions. In fact, most of the songs from their first LP Sigh no More were written while Marcus was studying at the University of Edinburgh.
It is not either of these things which make Mumford and Sons the great band that they are. I would say instead that each of these reasons approach the true reason. I said that Mumford and Sons was a very open band by which I meant that they don’t seem to appeal to a specific demographic, but it’s more than that. They are also a very innocent band. They accept themselves for what they are. They exude a hope that the world so desperately desires. So many artists are jaded beyond their wildest dreams and can do nothing but sing with intense passion about their feelings that they can’t control. Instead, the Sons and their father Mumford tend to sing with a range of characters and emotions. Sometimes they are calm and soothing, other times they are rousing and passionate. Sometimes they experience “..a swelling rage” while others they talk tenderly about a time with no more tears. (#Revelation21) Their world experiences have not moved them past a connection to the contemplation of beauty. Their idea of beauty has merely been strengthened.
Not only does the music capture this great depth and complexity of character that so well expresses the complexities of reality, but the words themselves show Marcus Mumford to be a student of the best of human thought. In one line, he references both Plato and Chesterton. (For some reason, as an evangelical he loves Chesterton) His love of Steinbeck comes out in at least two of his songs and he even quotes Master Shakespeare. He shows himself willing to tackle the problems that people face from a thoughtful and sensitive perspective.
And for not being a “Christian singer”, he sure manages to reference the “Maker” a lot. He is one of those rare specimens who can get away with it. I think it’s because he just sort of states it as an understanding of the world and not as a way of making sure you GOT THE MESSAGE. To often when “Christian bands” shout “Jesus is the saviour” people say “We’ve heard it all before.” But when Mumford says “Love it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free/to be more like the man you were made to be” people eat it up. The lyrics not only have literate depth, but philosophical and spiritual depth as well.
I think all of us singers, songwriters and listeners of music should take heed to these men who sing of Hope. They are not cynical consumers of adulation and political fads but simply gentlemen of the road.
Did I mention they release on Vinyl? They do.