A plucky banjo and weary vocals does not a bluegrass or folk band make. And, sure, the predominantly string-based sound of English quartet Mumford & Sons makes it somewhat easy for the uninitiated to hastily lump them into simple folky groupings. But their bigger-than-the-Atlantic choruses and their ability to turn cacophony into pleasingly melodic and rhythmically rich climaxes should force most listeners to recognize the band's transcendence over simple categorization.
To properly gain a feel for the spectacle that so many of the songs contain on the band's debut LP, Sigh No More, spin the title track. Then "The Cave." Then "Little Lion Man." The serene, almost mournful beginnings bleed and crawl into pulsing, liberating jams that likely wear out the digits of banjo player Winston Marshall, who'd likely win a pickin' duel with anyone this side of Earl Scruggs' ghost.
Another bit of slight of sound trickery that the band—which has now sold millions of records in their native land, as well as in Australia—displays comes directly from the tongue of lead singer and songwriter Marcus Mumford. He groans in a manner that denotes more than a little despair, but when lyrics such as "Death is at your doorstep, and it will steal your innocence, but it will not steal your substance" are proffered as they are in "Timshel," the seeming deception is revealed to be more a slug of reality—a frayed, slightly tarnished silver lining to an otherwise cheerless cloud.
So call Mumford & Sons folk—or even bluegrass, if you must. But be warned, Bill Monroe likely wouldn't take too kindly to a bluegrass band putting a fluegelhorn on its record.
Australian folk rock act The Middle East, no strangers to these parts in recent months, open the show.