Mumford & Sons Daytrotter Session
Having just written about Daytrotter’s upcoming Justin Townes Earle / Dawes vinyl split, I ‘d moved on to other writing projects and wasn’t paying a lot of attention when they first announced a large, exclusive Daytrotter session with Mumford & Sons. Plus, I’m that horrible kind of hipster that wears a T-shirt like “I listen to bands that don’t even exist”, so I rarely listen to roots music groups that are actually hugely popular (Old Crow Medicine Show being my only exception). Plus, I kind of thought they were part of this new movement of poorly played roots music, where the banjo’s more of a prop than an actual instrument. But good goddamn I was SO WRONG about them. I wish I could apologize for how wrong I was, so this article will have to be like a kind of apology for my wayward thoughts.
Recorded during their Gentlemen of the Road Stopover tour (a really cool project that saw them settling into a town for a full day of music and fun before their evening shows), the Mumford & Sons Daytrotter sounds incredibly relaxed. This only makes the excellent musicianship all the more evident. You can fake it all you want in the studio, but when you kick back for some late night picking with your buddies on a tour bus, you’ve got to be great to make it sound this good. Cool buddies too! Two of the tracks are covers of Appalachian old-time songs “Little Birdie” and “Angel Band” with renowned banjo player and singer Abigail Washburn. Bringing her on as a stroke of genius, and her swift banjo picking and beautiful singing helps define these two songs. Also joining the session are Rounder records songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff, and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes. But the real focus of the albums is the songs. I love Daytrotter, but what I love most about what they do is how they encourage bands to take on adventurous covers. I always feel a little cheated when a session goes up with just the songs on the band’s album. I LOVE when an artist on Daytrotter takes a huge leap to cover something really unusual. Case in point, the new Sarah Jarosz session has a crazy cover of Joanna Newsom’s classic “Book of Right On”. Check that out!
Despite starting off with a song (“Not with Haste”) from their new album, Babel, the rest of this session is dedicated to carefully chosen, totally awesome acoustic covers from interesting sources. Bob Dylan’s there of course, but with a song I’d never heard, “I Was Young When I Left Home”. It’s a beautiful folk song, appropriately recorded in 1961 at an informal session at a friend’s house and released only much much later via his Bootleg Series vol. 7. I’m no Dylan expert (much more of a neophyte), but I hadn’t heard this before. What a great song! Warming my cold heart, Mumford & Sons sweet, mellow cover of ” Not in Nottingham” is easily one of my favorite tracks from this session. Anyone who’s seen the excellent Disney movie “Robin Hood”, remembers this beautiful song, one of the highlights of many-a childhood. I hadn’t realized that Roger Miller wrote the songs for this movie, nor that he was the narrator and voice the part of the minstrel rooster. Mumford & Sons follow this Roger Miller song up with another, perhaps better-known, Roger Miller song: “Reincarnation.” I’m a totally newbie to Roger Miller’s music, but recently fell head-over-heels for his songwriting, at once funny but also touchingly poignant, after hanging out with O’Brien Party of 7, who just recorded the first tribute album of Miller’s songs. Check out the interview and article on this album HERE. The penultimate track of the Daytrotter session is a beautiful Guy Clark song, “Partner Nobody Chose”, and the final track is perhaps the strongest, an acoustic version of the Bruce Springsteen ballad “Atlantic City”.
Bob Dylan’s “I Was Young When I Left Home”
Roger Miller’s “Not in Nottingham” (if that raccoon chain gang doesn’t melt your heart….)
Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City”
It’s one thing for Mumford & Sons to fill an album with well written songs, in fact it’s what we’d expect. But I kinda think it says more about their songwriting that they’re so able to recognize great songs in such unheralded places. And it’s certainly a testament to their ability to play American roots music that they can draw from so many sources while still sounding wholly original. Mumford & Sons carry a very real authority with their music, and I don’t think I really realized this until I listened to their Daytrotter session. If you haven’t already hopped onboard their train, this might be the perfect stop to hitch a ride.
This post originally appeared on the Hearth Music Blog. Check out our website and roam through our blog and Online Listening Lounge to discover your next favorite artist! We’re dedicated to presenting today’s best Roots/Americana/World musicians.