Listening to albums like this can make you a little peeved in realising that the dreaded Mumford and Sons have undeservingly wrenched the credit for introducing accessible folk/country music to a more mainstream audience from more worthy bands such as The Decemberists. Maybe when the former learn a forth note on that damned banjo they can consider competing for that title.
The Decemberists have returned with their 6th LP titled in a seeming reference to The Smiths, ‘The King Is Dead’; 10 tracks of twangy Americana from the increasingly ambitious 5 piece. This is the Portland band's third record released on the label Capitol Records. In true country spirit the album was in fact recorded in a remote barn and features guest vocalist country heroine Gillian Welch and R.E.M’s Peter Buck can be heard strumming on three tracks. Harmonica reminiscent of Neil Young makes several most welcome appearances throughout the album and the stripped down record (in relative terms) is The Decemberists most impressive so far. The plucked and melodic ‘January Hymn’ shows the R.E.M influence whilst the Seth Lakeman-esque ‘Rox in a Box’ is an upbeat, foot-stomping ballad rich with breakneck fiddles and palpitating accordion. The album rather than tipping a hat to its influences rather emits a nostalgic feel as a full-blown roots country record.
The band has a clear and identifiable concept and delivers its songs with purpose and certainty and are so highly regard as a result of their ability to challenge themselves and keep the listeners on their toes in an avoidance of being typecast. It's impressively consistent considering the group's ambition and its quiet confidence speaks volumes for the band's bright future. An understated and highly enjoyable album, The Decemberists are one of the few bands able to keep country alive in popular culture.