When Mumford & Sons released its debut album, “Sigh No More,” in 2010, it caused a musical revolution of sorts.
Folk rock, a musical form that had produced occasional bursts of genius (Suzanne Vega, Tracy Chapman, The Proclaimers), was rock music’s redheaded stepchild.
Mumford & Sons came out swinging with their acoustic instruments on that glorious debut, and in the process sounded more like a full-fledged rock band than a lot of the actual groups out there at the time.
On its sophomore effort, “Babel,” the boys in Mumford have maintained that powerful delivery and actually seem even more intent on proving that the first album wasn’t a fluke.
These guys are like The Who of folk music.
You can almost hear the guitarist and lead singer Marcus Mumford windmilling on his acoustic guitar on songs.
The way Mumford and his bandmates harmonize harks back to the days when folk acts such as The Kingston Trio were top-charting music stars.
Not to be missed on the deluxe edition of “Babel” is a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” which features Paul Simon and dobro master Jerry Douglas.
Simply put, “Babel” is a beautifully lush, fully realized, more-than-adequate follow-up to the band’s ambitious debut.
If folk music is your thing, then congratulations, you’re officially current and popular for a change.
Key Tracks: “Babel,” “I Will Wait,” “The Boxer”
After more than four decades in the music business, some might think that the Seattle rock band Heart would be content to sit back and enjoy past musical triumphs.
Ann and Nancy Wilson don’t think so, though, and the sisters have just released “Fanatic,” the follow-up to last year’s “Red Velvet Car,” which was the first new studio album from Heart in more than six years.
While “Red Velvet Car” was the musical equivalent of the Wilson sisters dipping their toes in the water of the music industry to check the temperature, “Fanatic” finds the band diving right in.
Nancy provides plenty of heavy rock guitar riffs on songs such as “Dear Old America,” “Skin and Bones” and the title track.
Ann, meanwhile, who possesses some of the most powerful pipes in rock, has never sounded better. Hearing her hit the high notes on tracks such as “Million Miles” and “59 Crunch” will remind you of earlier triumphs like “Barracuda” and “What About Love.”
Not every tune is a home run (“Walkin’ Good,” which features guest vocals by Sarah McLachlan, is forgettable), but there is definitely a lot to like here.
The whole album has a sort of Zeppelin vibe to it. That isn’t to say that Heart is ripping off Jimmy Page and Robert Plant; in truth, the Wilson sisters have always been Page and Plant’s female equivalent.
At an age when a lot of folks their age are contemplating retirement, Ann and Nancy Wilson seem to be getting their second wind.
Key Tracks: “Fanatic,” “Skin and Bones,” “59 Crunch”
If there is any question as to how far the influence of musician and inventor Les Paul reaches in the music world, look no further than “Thank You Les,” a tribute album put together by rhythm guitarist Lou Pallo, who performed with Paul for years at The Iridium club in New York.
Paul, who died in 2009, invented the solid body electric guitar, without which rock ’n’ roll pretty much wouldn’t exist. He also was an ace guitar player and sold millions of albums in the ’50s.
Pallo has called in some heavy hitters to pay tribute to his old pal. A partial list includes Steve Miller, Billy Gibbons, Slash, Jose Feliciano and a guy named Keith Richards.
Seriously, though, when that kind of talent lines up to pay tribute to someone, it’s understandably a big deal.
The various tracks on “Thank You Les” range from Paul originals such as “Deep in the Blues” to well-known tunes from the American Songbook, such as “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” “Smile” and “Over the Rainbow.”
The production quality of the recordings is spectacular, and the music will appeal to folks who grew up listening to Paul’s recordings and the younger music fans who recognize the value in a recording that doesn’t feature the names Bieber or Perry.
Key Tracks: “Caravan,” “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” “Sweet Georgia Brown”
By Devin Grant