Some years ago I had the opportunity to have lunch with Daniel Glass, longtime music executive and founder in 2007 of Glassnote Records. Not long before our meeting, Glassnote had put out an album by a completely unknown quartet of Brits called Mumford & Sons, which against all odds, let alone all music industry trends, had begun to garner major buzz, if not yet excessive sales. The band was unlike anything present in popular music at the time, or quite possibly at any time. They featured an upright bass, a banjo, an acoustic guitar and a piano/accordian, and notably, no drummer (unless you count the one kick-drum stomped only occasionally by bandleader Marcus Mumford). They were a folk band, maybe a bluegrass band, certainly not a pop band, and definitely not a rock band. Yet Glass felt something, something that convinced him to take a chance, on what would become only the second group to be released on his fledgling label. When they got down to choosing the cover art for their album Sigh No More, Glass settled on a picture, a simple photo of the band posed in a storefront with their instruments. Marketing people went nuts. “You can’t show those instruments!,” Glass said they insisted with panic, “Nobody will believe they’re a rock band.” What did he do, I inquired? He smiled a bit deviously, and told me he just made the instruments a little bigger. I asked him pointblank how he knew, why he believed this band that defied all historic norms of pop music could still become pop stars. He turned directly towards me, and with a glint in his eye I’ll never forget, simply pointed to his ear.
Around that time, Daniel was kind enough to invite me to see Mumford & Sons at a couple of very intimate appearances in front of probably fewer than 100 people. But before long, rabid fans like my daughter, then barely a teenager, were seeing them at theaters and arenas with fervent, sing-along audiences that somehow comfortably spanned both our age groups. The album went on to be certified triple-platinum, signifying sales of three million copies, and remains the label’s highest-selling record. Daniel’s ear certainly knew something.
As with most newly realized trends, the sudden success of Mumford led quickly to what seemed like a movement of stylistic imitators, a few worthy, but mostly warmed-over copycat bands like the Lumineers, who appeared to rise to notoriety based solely on their ability to shout the two syllables “Ho” and “Hey”, and one seemingly so desperate to join the backwards-harkening sounds as to baldly name themselves The Revivalists. To me, even stacked all together none of these neo-folk rock bands have had nearly the impact or the musical sensibility of Mumford, with the exception of the magnificent Avett Brothers.
Here then is a video of the Mumford song that started it all, ‘Little Lion Man’, the very first hit off that extraordinarily unlikely first hit album. As of 2019 it’s got over 261 million streams on Spotify. That’s a hell of a lot of ears that have enjoyed it thanks to just one belonging to Daniel Glass.