The Decemberists and Mumford & Sons | Two Compelling Indie Folk Bands

Lead singer Marcus Mumford studied classics at the University of Edinburgh.

The Decemberists and Mumford & Sons are two rising bands generally categorized as “folk indie” but whose musical genius extends way beyond genre labels. Both groups deserve some of your ear-time as candidates to expand your music library.  

The Decemberists

Based in Portland, Oregon, and fronted by singer-songwriter Colin Meloy, the Decemberists have issued six CDs in the last ten years. The latest release, The King is Dead (2011), stands tallest within their portfolio.

Peter Buck, from the band REM, collaborated on this studio session with his unique mandolin, guitar, and vocal approaches. The extremely talented multi-instrumentalist Jenny Conlee, who’s a regular member of the band, contributes more than her share of musical expressions on Hammond organ, accordion, harmonica, melodica, piano, and other keyboards.

The pace of this album keeps an upbeat energy chugging along from song to song, while the lyrics transport the listener to places imbued with personal histories. For example, in “Down by the Water” the song begins, “See this ancient river bed. See where all my folly’s led. Down by the water and down by the old main drag.”

Download and burn the tracks listed below for the quintessential top-down car-driving experience.

Andy’s Picks: From The King is Dead, the best tracks are “January Hymn,” “Down by the Water,” “Dear Avery,” and the patriotic “This is Why We Fight.”   From the 2006 CD The Crane Wife, check out “Yankee Bayonet,” a Civil War-era song from the perspective of a woman with child who laments the battlefield death of her husband: “Though our bodies may be parted. Though our skin may not touch skin. Look for me with the sun-bright sparrow. I will come on the breath of the wind.”

Mumford & Sons

The buzz at the recent Grammy Awards show surrounded Mumford and Sons (M&S), a rising English folk-indie band nominated for Best New Artist and Best New Rock Song. Emerging from the West London folk scene in 2007, M&S is known for vibrant live concerts featuring band members who frequently switch instruments and engage the audience in lively banter.

On the 2010 CD Sigh No More, band members Marcus Mumford, Ben Lovett, Winston Marshall, and Ted Dwane move through various synergistic combinations of guitar, banjo, dobro, keyboards, accordion, drums, and string bass. Mumford and Lovett met at King’s College School in Wimbledon where they gained a literary education that reveals itself in both their song lyrics and the Shakespearean-derived CD title Sigh No More.  

Andy’s Picks: Beyond the well-known chart-topping tracks “The Cave” and “Little Lion Man,” I gravitate toward the CD’s down-tempo songs including “I Gave You All,” “Thistle and Weeds,” “After the Storm,” and especially “Awake My Soul,” which wisely reflects, “where you invest your love, you invest your life.”

If this music sinks its hooks deeply enough into your soul, then you might want to plan to attend the 2011 Telluride Bluegrass Festival in mid-June, where both the Decemberists and Mumford & Sons will join a fabulous lineup of artists. 

To acquire an audio file of this review, go to  Join Andy Bargerstock’s Fringe Toast radio show every Wednesday from 8-10 p.m. on KRUU-LP 100.1 FM in Fairfield, and available worldwide via  

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