The Grace of British Folk Music

When King Solomon said that there was nothing new under the sun he had obviously never heard of Mumford & Sons. Of course I am speaking tongue in cheek, but this British folk band represents something that (while not being entirely new) is hard to find in the music world. They play on subtlety and the understated in a beautiful way.

As you listen to the various tracks on their only full album “Sigh No More” you get a sense that they are speaking of love, yes, but of something so much more too. Their lyrics represent an idea of love that seems very Biblical (a definition almost unheard of today, even in “Christian” music). But more than that they write, with subtlety and understatement, about a love that has its roots in something greater than human relationships. So, for example, in “Winter Winds,” they write:

The shame that sent me off from the God that I once loved

Was the same that sent me into your arms

And pestilence has won when you are lost and I am gone

And no hope, no hope, will overcome

These lyrics seem to suggest that love that is temporal only has no lasting power. Think too of these lyrics, from “Roll Away Your Stone”:

It seems that all my bridges have been burnt

But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works

It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart

But the welcome I receive with the restart

There are countless lyrics like these two examples that suggest of a possible deep love and affection for Christ, and yet it cannot be certain simply from listening to the music. It may sound strange to some, but that is in fact precisely why I love this album: the subtlety and even ambiguity of the lyrics (along with the amazing musical quality). Lyrics like those found in the opening lines of “White Blank Page” are the kind that stir me to contemplate deeper affections:

Can you lie next to her

And give you her your heart

Your heart, as well as your body

And can you lie next to her

And confess your love

Your love, as well as your folly

And can you kneel before the king

And say I’m clean, I’m clean

What does that mean? I am not certain, but I hear it and I think to myself: can I love my wife in such a way, can a dating couple love in such a way as to remain pure before the King? Now I’ll grant that “Little Lion Man” drops the “F-bomb” and many Christians will be appalled by that, and understandably so. But there is so much thoughtfulness and understatement in this album that I can’t help but appreciate it.

Whether Mumford & Sons turn out to be in fact speaking of Christ or not this album’s subtlety does represent the grace of God. And not only because they speak of grace in a Biblical way (as in the lyrics listed above), but because all truth is God’s truth (we call this Common Grace)…even truth found in British folk songs.

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  • Michele

    I hope it’s not too late to comment; I only recently discovered M&S through my sons. There is also a line I love that, to paraphrase, says if you don’t listen to your mother you’ll spend your life “biting your own neck” which could have come straight out of Proverbs. I love the ambiguity as well and I love to think that there are people who will hear truth that may someday point them to the Truth. But even if no one is ever saved by a Mumford song, truth is being spoken.
    And may I add, they rocked the Grammys?


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