Mumford & Sons continue the longstanding tradition of British invasion with pop music created by a fabulous foursome from across the pond, yet Marcus Mumford and his namesake band also bring something fresh to the turntable. Their Grammy-nominated record Sigh No More and the follow-up Babel — which rose to #1 on several charts — showcase the band’s rowdy talent and literary intelligence, relentless instrumentals that reel and spin, not to mention the charmingly crisp British accent.
Marcus Mumford favors dress shirts and suit vests and looks as if he’d be equally at home in the 19th century as a busker. He and his blokes pour themselves into their instruments and their harmonious vocals, no holding back. But their inspired and inspiring lyrics also help their songs stand out. Biblical and literary influences lend depth to M&S songs with some bookish lyrics that allude to fellow British writers William Shakespeare and G.K. Chesterton. Their music snugs up against traditional pub music, but step up the pace: Mumford & Sons’ kinetic songs brazenly push the envelope on how fast a human can strum strings.
10) “The Cave”
This rousing song rose to #27 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 2011. Mumford & Sons know how to build a song. “The Cave” starts with a merry melody, a song that begins slowly an innocently, but accelerates toward an outrageous pace as the banjo player burns up the strings. “The Cave” is a song of enlightenment: “I will hold on hope . . . I’ll find strength in pain,” Mumford sings in his raspy voice.
9) “Lover’s Eyes”
An austere and heartbreaking song, “Tame the ghosts in my head that run wild and wish me dead, should you shake my ash to the wind, Lord forgive all of my sins.”
8) “Winter Winds”
This bouncy song opens with a sound evocative of a New Orleans street parade, plus banjo. It’s a song set on their home turf: “As the winter winds litter London with lonely hearts . . .” This is a reluctant love song with literary lyrics typical of Mumford & Sons: “Your beauty trumped my doubt.”
A deep track on the first record, this transcendent song shows off the guys’ seamless harmonies and the bandleader’s literary sensitivities. According to the official forum, this song draws inspiration on the book “East of Eden,” Marcus Mumford’s favorite novel. The lyrics are chilling – “Cold is the water, it freezes your already cold mind,” “Death is at your doorstep” – but also comforting: “You are not alone in this…as brothers we will stand and we’ll hold your hand,” “You have your choices, these are what make man great, his ladder to the stars.” Not the most popular of Mumford & Sons songs, it’s nonetheless a precious gem.
6) “Lover of the Light”
On Babel, Mumford & Sons continued their high-vibe, spiritual bent with this song; another tune that that begins quietly and slowly and builds until Mumford practically screams the song’s title.
5) “Awake My Soul”
Spirituality seems inherent in the songs of Mumford & Sons. “Now my heart stumbles on things I don’t know.” “Your soul you must keep totally free.” Even mentioning the soul Mumford puts out a reverential vibe when he belts spirituality tinged lyrics: “In these bodies we will live. In these bodies we will die. And where you invest your love, you invest your life . . . You were meant to meet your maker.”
4) “I Will Wait”
A jam tune from the first note, this is a sparkling love song full of devotion. In 2013, the unrelenting single rose to #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and received the Grammy nomination for Best Rock Performance. The tune includes another reference to the soul. Mumford & Sons don't shy away from spirituality. “Paint my spirit gold and bow my head”
3) “Little Lion Man”
The band’s breakout single caught the ear of listeners captivated by an outrageous tempo and a tune that sounded fresh and different. For all his pious moments—the title Babel alludes to the Old Testament tower and several songs mention the soul—Marcus Mumford is not above using the F word, requires radio dubbing to change the vulgarity to “messed.”
2) “Below My Feet”
This is a song with a poetic sense, both lyrically and musically. Like many Mumford & Sons songs, this number starts slowly and sparely and adds passion until it becomes a barn-burner, a rebel yell, a plaintive shouted plea: “Keep the earth below my feet, for all my sweat my blood runs weak, let me learn from where I have been, keep my eyes to serve my hands to learn.” The tenacity of the players is evident in this song as the band bobs and weaves through the music, outrageously energetic toward the song’s end.
1) “Ghosts That We Knew”
This is an elegant and yet not overly manicured anthem striking original chords that sound almost like an austere prayer sung: “Give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light.” This song bounces along with moments evoking the Old West, the sacred and the profane harnessed, and shifts gears mid-way toward a gallop. The opening of the song features pared back, austere sonics, but the tune – like so many Mumford and Sons’ songs -– builds from the simple and passes into another realm of runaway wild, fireworks passion unselfconscious and warm. We all know ghosts and recent disgrace. This is a song that rings true with all the sparkle and verve and depths of humanity.