Review: Mumford & Sons' 'Johannesburg' a rich, rhythmic romp

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Posted: Jun 17, 2016 1:28 PM
Review: Mumford & Sons' 'Johannesburg' a rich, rhythmic romp

Mumford & Sons, "Johannesburg" (Glassnote)

Mumford & Sons' new five-song EP is a tonal and rhythmic departure from the band's past three albums. Written with Senegalese singer Baaba Maal, Malawian group The Very Best and South African band Beatenberg, "Johannesburg" blends Mumford's folk sounds with African rhythms and instruments with rich results.

After plugging in their guitars for 2015's "Wilder Mind," Mumford & Sons embrace a wider range of sounds and styles on this follow-up EP, recorded over a two-day marathon session in South Africa earlier this year.

If it weren't for Marcus Mumford's recognizable voice, "Johannesburg" might not even sound like the work of the Grammy-winning British quartet. Drums are more prominent than guitars. But Mumford harmonizes beautifully with Maal, who sings in his native Pulaar language.

Maal also sings in French, and the album's closing song, "Si Tu Veux," is a showcase for his powerful voice and multi-lingual capabilities. One track, "Ngamila," includes barely any English.

The pop sensibilities are still present. A dramatic call of drums and layered harmonies open "Fool You've Landed" before Mumford introduces the notion of "downtown hair and high-rise eyes."

Incorporating such traditional instruments as the djembe and the kora (a West African harp), the Mumford mini-album recalls other pop ventures into the musical heritage of distant cultures, like Paul Simon's 1990 release, "The Rhythm of the Saints," which drew on Afro-Brazilian sounds.

Here it feels like five songs aren't enough.