When Sugarland and Little Big Town tour together, the crowd knows and expects a very cool cover song to come at the encore with both groups collaborating in fantastic harmony. The most famous of these covers was "Life in a Northern Town" which was released as a video as a postscript from their CMT on Tour, a track on the deluxe edition of Sugarland's Love on the Inside album and a performance on the 2008 CMT Music Awards. So a couple of weeks ago, the crowd was stunned when they come out and the cover is a song barely anyone knew. I witnessed it myself in Dallas this past weekend. By the end of the song, though, a good portion of the crowd starts singing along. But when Jennifer Nettles introduces the song by saying "This is a song by Mumford & Sons," most people scratched their head and said, "Who's Mumford & Sons?"
The funny thing is that in the Nashville music industry, Mumford & Sons may be the best kept secret of 2010. I got introduced to them in January, around the time their Sigh No More album came out, and I quickly fell in love. Slowly, throughout the year, random people both inside CMT and on Music Row, would come up to me and say, "Hey, have you heard this Mumford & Sons record?" Apparently, the same interaction occurred between Sugarland and Little Big Town. When each discovered the other was a fan, the cover became natural.
The band itself is certainly not a traditional country artist by any definition, though they count Dobro, mandolin and banjo among the instruments they play and are clearly influenced by country. The group are a folk rock quartet from London who have been together for three years, but it was only last year that they started to achieve fame. British DJs were declaring them "next big thing" last fall. David Letterman had them on The Late Show back in February. They truly began orbiting the country world in June when Old Crow Medicine Show joined them on stage at Bonnaroo. Shortly after that, our friends at VH1 declared them an You Oughta Know artist, and now the record has sold a quarter of a million copies.
What you can say about Mumford & Sons is that they are great. Musically, they defy definition. They break down the walls of what "country music" can be and expand your horizons. Personally, I'm thrilled that Sugarland take chances as it gives me the excuse I've been waiting for to tell you about this group. In two months, when Grammy time comes around and you see Mumford & Sons on the best new artist nominees list, you can be ahead of the game. Watch a video of Sugarland's live version of "Sigh No More," and see Mumford & Sons video for "Little Lion Man."