Millions watched Mumford & Sons join Bob Dylan at the 2011 Grammys to play ”Maggie’s Farm,” which is somewhat ironic. Wasn’t that song supposed to be Dylan’s screed against the folk scene? Now the Sons are leading a folk revival that includes the Lumineers, Milo Greene, and Of Monsters and Men — a whole new generation of bands who dress like There Will Be Blood extras and treat folk-rock with such devotion you’d think it was an old-time religion.
And for Marcus Mumford, maybe it is. His parents are leaders in the Vineyard Church, an evangelical movement that has its own record label and traces its musical history back to the Righteous Brothers. While that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a practicing Christian, he’s definitely interested in the saved-by-rock-&-roll stuff. On Babel, he wails about serving the Lord and saving his sins for the ark while his band harmonizes along with all the lift-ev’ry-voice fervor of a Pentecostal sermon. ”I leave no time/For a cynic’s mind,” he sings on the ballad ”Not With Haste.” He isn’t kidding.
If you don’t own enough cable-knit sweaters to appreciate lyrics this earnest, the music may change your cynic’s mind. Producer Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire) works hard to capture the feverish uplift of the Sons’ live shows, giving each piano note and mandolin string the echoing-to-the-log-cabin-rafters treatment. And the band has mastered the emotional gut-punch of quiet/loud dynamics, exploding from low-murmured harmonies into full Appalachian freak-outs. All the while, Marcus howls about grace and love over a frenzy of strumming. The guy’s clearly a true believer — even if he believes in nothing more than banjo solos. A-