The rise in American(a) / root music (via Mumford & Sons) -- and the predictable backlash
posted at 2/6/2013 2:03 PM EST
I'm going to paraphrase (not plagiarize, if you will) an article that I read in the Globe last week re: Mumford and Sons, and their wave of influence on the current explosion in American roots music. The last time Americana / roots music had a resurgence was ca. 2000, with the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack; the soundtrack won a Grammy, and took original Appalacian folk tunes from the back to the front burner for fans of the genre.
The difference between then and now, however, is that Mumford and Sons, an English quartet, has galvanized the roots scene across a broader landscape, and their trajectory has been unstoppable. They have led the way for a new crop of bands / musicians that also play folk / roots music with a similarly influenced "raucous bent", and from that standpoint, have made the genre popular across the mass market, if not trendy.
As was noted by James Reed in the article, their recent concert at the TD Garden (last week) was sold out in six (6) MINUTES. Reed also states that he can't remember the last time a band whose first headlining show went from a small venue (in this case, the Middle East in Cambridge (cap. 575), and graduated to a sold out TDG, a mere 3 years later. May it be duly recorded that Justin Bieber or Lady GaGa are not the only pop acts that can accomplish such a feat. :)
The group has spawned many "children" such as the Lumineers, the Head and the Heart, Of Monsters and Men, as well as opening the door for Americana's latest hyped band, the Lone Bellow, a trio out of Brooklyn, NY. NOTE: The Lone Bellow are the first to be announced in the lineup for the Newport Folk Festival).
The question posed is: where does Mumford & Sons go from here, and "is that all there is?"; the contention is, they're all about power and dynamics, but so soon after their rise to fame, they come off as decidedly rote. They are consistent in their delivery, so you're either a follower or you're not, but the music, nor their delivery, is nuanced. The mood of the music is more modern than preceding roots music, and more consistently euphoric, even when singing about lost love and self doubt.
Despite the credit they are being issued for paving the way, they are being issued a number of slights: they are "monochromatic" while their newer counterparts, are bending Americana's boundaries. Could it be that the "children" and the influencees, are greater than the influencers themselves? A case of the influencers are no longer as good as their progeny?
The rise of the Mumford / Sons has also coincided with the rejuvenated spirit of the Newport Folk Festival. The venerable event, curated by producer Jay Sweet, has had record ticket sales in recent years, and by and large, has increased sales to a younger audience. Selling out nearly 5 weeks in advance last year was unprecedented. Sweet has lobbied for Mumford & Sons to play Newport, but to no avail; he sees the band as "emblematic of a new era of roots music -- and that comes with a risk."
Sweet says, " They have the spotlight right now; what they've done to raise everyone's profile is remarkable, but my fear is that there will be a backlash. People start to look at other (similar) bands ... and think they all sound the same."
"The backlash can be very fast and furious."
I started questioning this backlash (if not being a part of it) 6 months ago in a thread re: a band named Dawes. In fact, I'm going to bump that thread for anyone who wants to revisit it. All this to say (and sorry for the long reference to the article): American roots music is flourishing. It is, however, like any other musical trend that will suffer a backlash: roots bands will be over-rated because they will not need talent or originality to be popular, will catch the wave of opportunity while it's high, will ultimately be clones (if they are not already), all sound alike, and cease to be exciting.
Generalizations, I know. :) Thoughts (or generalizations), anyone?