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This year is a good year for mainstream folk music. Not only have there been new albums from the Mumford and Sons, as well as Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, but Of Monsters and Men came bustling out of Iceland and to crown the American Billboard charts. Their smash hit “Little Talks” received generous airplay from commercial radio stations and broke into Billboard’s top ten alternative songs earlier this year.
Of Monsters and Men often evoke nature themes in their music, their lyrical content often deals with woods, animals and insects. Nearly serving as an audio equivalent of the beloved Where the Wild Things Are, their music plays like a joyous romp through childhood folk tales.
When the music industry went through its recovery last year, many rock critics and industry professionals praised Adele’s talent in the digital marketplace. Though her first second album premiered at number one on the Billboard charts, selling over 352,000 records, Adele has been faced with major competition.
In the first week alone, Mumford and Sons’ new album has sold over 600,000 copies. Babel has sold nearly double the amount of albums that Adele had sold, while also surpassing favorites No Doubt and Green Day for a number one debut on Billboard. Upon emerging from the West London folk scene with the likes of Laura Marling, Johnny Flynn, and Noah and the Whale, Mumford and Sons have become champions for the cause of the music industry.
Their second album has a lot of the same four-part harmonies, acoustic guitars and banjos that made them popular. While many bands record their music in sound-proof booths and microphones, Mumford and Sons decided to record many of their new tracks live, instead of isolated in the studio. Tempering the cultural stereotype of the British firm upper lip, their music has always been heart wrenching and pensive. This new album is no different.
What is new about this album, however, are religious references. Not to say that Babel is inherently a Christian record, but there are moments threaded through the album that examine religion with a tinges of self-destruction. For example, “Whispers in the Dark” has Marcus Mumford proclaiming that he’d “set out to serve the lord, but my heart was colder.” “Broken Crown” also examines a realization that the narrator will “never be your chosen one.”
A softer moment on Babel falls in “Ghosts That We Knew”, as the narrator pleads with a lover to reconcile. This track recalls the track “Ghosts” by Mumford’s former lover and fellow musician, Laura Marling. While they both emerged from the West London folk scene, Marling and Mumford played together at in 2010’s iTunes Music Festival in London. Though it may not be a direct reference to his former love, the middle of Babel swings soft and low with tracks of tattered love and redemption.
The overall sound of this album is faster paced than Sigh No More, edging closer to bluegrass than their initial folk music. While there are arguable differences between Sign No More and Babel, the latter is definitely an exercise in calculated success. After having a smashing debut marked by getting to play with Bob Dylan and Ray Davies of The Kinks as well as having record breaking album sales, Mumford and Sons do not want to fix what is not broken. And who could blame them?
The Avett Brothers did not disappoint with their newest album, The Carpenter. With an upbeat opening containing hopeful lyrics of the life of a traveler, the album brings you on an acoustic folk journey of love, questioning faith, and is peppered with biblical references. This Concord, NC trio consisting of brothers Scott and Seth Avett, and stand up bassist Bob Crawford, created a very diverse album with help from legendary producer Rick Rubin. The brothers definitely took control of this album though, creating a diverse sound that could only be described as “Avett Brother-like,” only using Rubin’s knowledge of what makes an artist become a chart topping artist. Progressing through the album, the single, “Live and Die,” is an upbeat example of the pursuit of understanding faith, as seen in the lyrics:
“Fear like a habit, run like a rabbit out and away/
Through the screen door to the unknown/
I wanna find you and more/
Where do you reside when ya hide?/
How can I find ya?/Can you tell that I am alive?/Let me prove it.”
The single is definitely one of the more radio friendly songs on the album, with a Civil Wars-inspired sound and a Between the Trees lyric progression, though this doesn't seem the appropriate means for representing the album. The Carpenter carries a somber tone at times. It would have made more sense to have “Pretty Girl From Michigan” as a single on the album; it has a rise and fall that is present throughout the whole album, with all of the band’s creative influences expertly crafted in a 2 minute and 47 second song. By the time the song “A Father’s First Spring” comes about, the album has gone through questioning faith, coming to realize the truth, taking a leap of faith,reminiscing on the past and learning to let go, and accepting a new beginning. All of this is beautifully summed up in the closing song, “Life,” where the journey taken throughout the album is reflected. The Carpenters sums up a catharsis, while aptly playing with different genres and sounds.
Trampled by Turtles album Stars and Satellites seems to be a very slow, sleepy album at first listen. After listening through it a few times, the album’s songs become quite beautiful. In what Trampled by Turtles sacrifices in fast paced songs, it brings more to the table in deeper lyrics that need a slower tempo to bring out the emotion in the pieces.
Arriving at an opportune moment, many people were camped out in front of the Amscot Financial Stage at Kiley Gardens to catch Sarasota’s Have Gun Will Travel. The band has received acclaim from local and national media; theirl hit “Blessing and a Curse” was recently placed in a Chevrolet commercial.
After traveling across the country, Matthew Burke and the other members of acclaimed local folk band Have Gun Will Travel came back to Tampa for their CD release party for Mergers and Acquisitions. They played at Skipper’s Smokehouse, a hidden gem of the independent Tampa scene.
Recorded and mixed by their guitarist, Scott “Fats” Anderson, the album has received rave reviews from local publications, and is their first release on Suburban Home Records.
I had the chance to talk with Matthew Burke before the release party at Skipper’s Smokehouse. He seemed calm, having just finished sound check and grabbing a drink before the show. Very down to earth, he was wearing an old T shirt with flannel and a beat up baseball cap.