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Sigh No More

Denise Smith

Mumford & Sons
Universal / Island


This album came out months ago, even making Jude Mason's best of 2009 in this magazine. I first heard it in glum November, not quite ready for its chirpy London mock-folk. For me, it's a set of songs to bring out with the dahlias and the tomato seedlings.

In their early years Mumford & Sons (named after singer Marcus) knocked around in posh schools with members of what was to become Noah & The Whale. Together with Laura Marling they've formed a bit of a scene, the sort of gang you wouldn't mind taking home to meet your Mum. Nothing wrong with that - you don't need an armful of tattoos and needlemarks to prove you're talented - but it might be fair to say that, at mostly 22 or so, this is a band looking for a hinterland.

They do seem to be looking in the right places. 'Serve God, love me, and mend' is the album's opening line, a direct lift from Much Ado About Nothing. The song continues with more lifts, but Shakespeare on love is never a bad place to start. There's love all over the record, actually, though it gets less literate. Hope too, and faith, conflicted and uncertain, as you'd expect in any artist, never mind someone on their debut album. Take 'Roll Away Your Stone':

It seems that all my bridges have been burned
But you say 'That's exactly how this grace thing works'
It's not the long walk home that will change this heart
But the welcome I receive with every start.

There are faint echoes of one of those ropey singalong worship songs here (perhaps confirming rumours that some of the band spent time at Holy Trinity Brompton) but it's mostly better than this. 'Thistle & Weeds'  has:

It's getting dark darling, too dark to see
And I'm on my knees, and your faith in shreds, it seems.
but then:

But I will hold on
I will hold on hope.

Simple stuff, but almost anthemic if you throw the requisite number of banjos and brass instruments at it. It's certainly fiddles to the fore on footstompers like 'Winter Winds' and if Mumford's voice has rather too much aged gravel for him to be honestly proclaiming his love of honest music, it isn't ever as tediously wistful as some of his contemporaries. Certainly they'd be worth catching live; I'll bet they're charming and polite but energetic and fun. Their quieter moments will end up as incidental music on Gardeners' World but that's the best show on TV anyway. About right for a band that should grow nicely.

Denise Smith