Music Review: 'Johannesburg,' Mumford & Sons

Jun 17, 2016
Originally published on June 18, 2016 7:46 am
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Mumford and Sons is trying to expand beyond the quaint bluegrass the group is known for. The band released a mini album today called "Johannesburg." It features the legendary Senegalese singer Baaba Maal, the South African pop trio Beatenberg, and members of the electronic pop collective The Very Best. Tom Moon has been listening to the five songs and has this review.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WONA")

MUMFORD AND SONS: (Singing) Don't want to suffer for your art. You don't want to vivisect your heart. And then if you're falling apart, you're probably trying too hard. In the dawning light, I found you breathless.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: It's tempting to ridicule the latest from Mumford and Sons as further adventures in rock star tourism. You know the deal - a big band becomes enchanted with exotic local sounds and writes songs that attempt to integrate them. What elevates this one is the heart-stirring stirring voice of Baaba Maal.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SI TU VEUX")

BAABA MAAL: (Singing in foreign language).

MOON: Primarily written and recorded over two days, "Johannesburg" is a hydra-headed collaboration involving musicians whose styles rarely overlap. The songs they wrote together are structurally elastic with textures and languages shifting from verse to verse. The only constant is that familiar Mumfordian earnestness.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOOL YOU'VE LANDED")

MUMFORD AND SONS: (Singing in foreign language). My, downtown head and high-rise eyes. So naive to how the skyline lies. Must do nothing for your mind.

MOON: Last time around, Mumford and Sons experimented with rock to support their trademark bellringing anthems. The new EP could be criticized for sonic imperialism, but give the band credit for some artistic restlessness. These guys are not sitting still.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THERE WILL BE TIME")

MUMFORD AND SONS: (Singing) I live to love and adore you. It's all that I am. It's all that I have...

SHAPIRO: That's Tom Moon reviewing the latest from Mumford and Sons, called "Johannesburg."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THERE WILL BE TIME")

MUMFORD AND SONS: (Singing) It's all that I have. Why do I keep falling... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.