Recommended if you like: Mumford & Sons
The A.V. Club runs down some contemporaries and old-timey influences Mum-fans might enjoy
So, yeah, Mumford & Sons. The Fall’s Mark E. Smith called them “retarded Irish folk singers.” Pitchfork said their debut, Sigh No More, is full of “hollow, self-aggrandizing drama,” and that the band is “playing dress-up in threadbare clothes.” Zap! And still, love ’em or hate ’em, Mumford & Sons are doing pretty fucking well for themselves, those bastards.
Their record’s sold about a bajillion copies. They’re embarking on a pretty huge, sold-out U.S. tour (including a show Saturday at the Riverside Theater), and, like, celebrities are into them and stuff. Mega-country group Sugarland’s been covering them on tour, even.
The trick of Mumford & Sons’ success is that they fall into the very coveted “good music for bland white people” genre, and fuck if they aren’t great at owning it, just like The Avett Brothers or Kings Of Leon. Don’t try to deny it: “Little Lion Man” is a total jam, just like “Sex On Fire.”
The thing is, there are plenty of groups that Mumford sprung out of, both the band’s U.K. contemporaries and some Southern roots classics. Trust The A.V. Club—fans who love Mumford will love these bands. And, hey, people who hate Mumford & Sons might like these groups too.
Yeah, okay, this one is a little obvious. Marling is Marcus Mumford’s girlfriend, and they’ll probably make sweet little Brit-folk babies together, but she’s also seriously insanely talented. Her songs are heartfelt, whimsical, and sometimes just perfect. Plus, she’s so damn endearing it’s basically impossible to dislike her.
Another compatriot of Marling and Mumford, Flynn is just coming up on the U.S. scene and is definitely a talent to watch. Yes, dude’s an actor and he’s not too hard on the eyes; but much, much more than that, his songs absolutely rip. His latest record, Been Listening, is not only basically tailor-made for lazy Sunday mornings, it’s also a perfect Christmas present for moms, dads, cool aunts, whatever. Anyway—don’t say we didn’t warn you.
An ex-baseball player, textile factory worker, and exceptionally talented banjo player, Charlie Poole is one of the biggest unsung talents of modern country music. Of course, he did all of his recording sessions with backing band the North Carolina Ramblers between 1925 and 1931, and then died young after a 13-week drinking binge brought on by depression over slumping record sales. Poole’s work experienced a brief resurgence of popularity with artists like the Grateful Dead and Joan Baez recording covers of his material, and more recently, Loudon Wainwright III released High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project, a Grammy-winning record paying tribute to the late son-of-a-gun. Seriously, this dude’s as real as it comes. Anyone who agrees with the Pitchfork’s Mumford assessment should check out this guy instead.
Continuing on the “classic country” tip, Doc Watson is, basically, musical truth. Born in 1923, Watson was struck blind before his first birthday. He bought his first guitar with money he earned by chopping down a bunch of trees as a boy. He was a natural, and was playing street corners in Raleigh, North Carolina within months. His signature flat-picking style has been copied by just about all the best folk and bluegrass guitar players, and dude’s got a set of pipes, too. Just try and resist the charm of this duet with Jean Ritchie, who’s a bitchin’ dulcimer player in her own right. (Marling, Mumford, if you guys wanted to sing a duet cover, you could do worse than this.)
Justin Townes Earle + Old Crow Medicine Show
Both of these acts are much-beloved and talked about by Mumford and his Sons in interviews. Old Crow actually just got back from opening for Mumford on tour in Europe. Basically, Old Crow is a sped up country version of what M&S would sound like if they were actually from the South. Just imagine this with a British lilt, instead of a nasal twang.
Townes Earle is, yeah, the son of Steve Earle. And he’s named after Townes Van Zandt. His storytelling, cacophonous guitar playing, and “fuck you” attitude are kind of second to none. Plus, with rockers like “Harlem River Blues” along with ballads like “Mama’s Eyes” in his repertoire, it’s no wonder Mumford admires him.
Justin Townes Earle would tell you that a lot of the songwriting he learned, he learned from listening to Guy Clark. Clark’s been in the biz for years, and has written songs for Johnny Cash, David Allan Coe, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, and a whole truckload of other country stars. His own songs are full of heartbreak, incredibly descriptive language, and just plenty of honky-tonkin’.
Another friend of Mumford, this group is, basically, two dudes from Keane—Tim Rice-Oxley and Jesse Quin—plus some guest stars, including M&S’s banjo aficionado Country Winston. Mt. Desolation’s self-titled debut record, just out, opens strong with the boozy “Departure,” but kind of slinks toward boring, modern Springsteen later. The members of Mumford have said that fans might be disappointed with their next record, as they’re thinking about “switching gears,” whatever that means. If it means the kind of Dave Matthews-y/Mt. Desolation-like tracks they’ve been playing live lately, uh-oh.
An English folk group that went electric ages ago, Fairport Convention is one of the groups most often cited as a Mumford influence by smarty-pants journalists. They have a lady singer, so look beyond that, but the likeness is definitely there.
A.A. Bondy + Langhorne Slim
These balladeers have been churning out more poignant stuff than Mumford for years, and have constantly gone under the radar for it; though Slim is, at least, often cited as one of the U.K. Folk scene’s favorite American artists. Seriously, though—listen to A.A. Bondy.
Trampled By Turtles + Infamous Stringdusters
On tour in the U.S. together right now, these bluegrass groups are just insanely talented. Trampled By Turtles’ music is, ironically given the band’s name, absolutely frantic. Mumford & Sons absolutely have to wish they were that technically good—and maybe also that they were on speed, because that’s what they’d need to play that fast. It’s not a stretch to imagine Marcus Mumford belting out the song below.
The Infamous Stringdusters are a little more laid-back, and a little more country-fied. But still, the vocal harmonies and the non-drum-based bluegrass style are there. (M&S only use a kick drum in most songs.) The Stringdusters might be a little NPR for some listeners, but these songs might also make a strong argument for some more fiddle and slide guitar on the next Mumford record.