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Album review: Mumford & Sons, `Babel'

Mumford & Sons may seem like a blend of some of the world's most annoying archetypes, from the guy who starts playing the guitar at parties to the guy who dresses like a mixologist. The Brits’ songs all tend to follow a similar formula: bluegrass hoedown crescendos into bombastic indie-rock sing-a-long. These things can make a band easy to resent, particularly for the cynical observer who might also note the group's air of focus-grouped appeal. But there are certain benefits to being such a seemingly risk-averse band.

Take “Babel,” the Mumford crew's second album, which offers a uniformly solid track list and few surprises. “Babel” hits all the right notes – pleasant banjo parts, touches of introspection, large doses of affirmation – and never strays far enough from these elements to yield any total duds. It's well-produced. It probably could keep a carload of people happy on a road trip. There's slickness to it, but not to the point of distraction.

Probably the band's biggest selling point to the skeptics, though, is that while they are accessible, they are rarely pretty. Marcus Mumford's voice has a raggedness that gives his songwriting some small edge of desperation, and when it comes across strongest, on the album's title track or the Dave Matthews Band-like “Lover of the Light,” for instance, the band sounds distraught, not disingenuous.

Kyle Kramer is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic

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