May 1, 2019 Judah & the Lion – Pep Talks (Album Review)
The truth is, somewhere, there is always someone going through something in their lives. Whether they choose to make it apparent or conceal their troubles, that is up to them. On the surface, the Nashville trio known as Judah & the Lion had it all with touring across the country and grabbing a hold of Billboard charts. In reality, the band member’s personal lives were crumbling with the weight on each other’s shoulders, and they put all of that into their brand new album, Pep Talks. Their first album in 3 years, their most intimate and raw record yet is out Friday, May 3rd, 2019 via Cletus the Van/Caroline, so are you ready?
Looking back, since forming in 2011, Judah & the Lion has captivated the world with the hybrid sound of their 2016 album, Folk Hop N’ Roll, in sing-a-long fashion that makes the urge not to be fascinated hard. With the help of Darren King, Jon Bellion, and Kacey Musgraves, the trio – Judah Akers (vocals), Brian MacDonald (mandolin), Nate Zuercher (banjo) – teamed up to co-produced and recorded Pep Talks. As mentioned a very raw album, it paints a vivid picture of the process involved in turning Akers’ whole world around; deriving from personal turmoil from Akers’ family falling apart from alcoholism, affairs, death, and divorce.
Though “Quarter-Life Crisis” was first released four months ago, the track gave the perfect glimpse of the album. That said, the term ‘mid-life crisis’ is always used, but Akers dives into the struggles of figuring this life out; something most twenty-somethings can easily relate to, feeling lost entering the world of ‘adulthood.’ This is where Akers first marked his cry for help to the public and does so in a fashionable manner.
The struggles continue within the first half of Pep Talks, as the opening title-track builds suspension with the musical components in and out like waves until the countdown begins. The eruption of horns, drums, and chanting give the pretense of the record’s heaviness. Continuing along, with the moody “i’m ok,” Akers tries to convince listeners into believing he is okay, although, he is clearly not. A steady electronic beat contrasts with fluffy light banjo plucks until the musical turn halfway gives the illusion of falling down a winding hole, where Akers is able to come to terms with the fact that he is not okay.
Pre-released tracks “pictures,” featuring Kacey Musgraves, and “Over my Head” continue to illustrate the personal hardships faced, as Akers’ mother moves from their family house and his mental health continues to crumb while on the road. Bittersweet, “Queen Songs/human.” is a heartfelt reminiscing track for his mother, acting as a protective layer for the record. Simple, the song is serene and grows substantial with keys, strings, along with a thumping beat. Folding into the second half of the cut “human.” is the cinematic portion that sprouts from inspiration as Akers sings in the echoes, “Cheers to a bright future full of us.”
From this moment forward, Pep Talks morphs into a inspirational hype record that Judah & the Lion is known for. The “Take It All Back” stars dip their toes into EDM with “Don’t Mess with My Mama,” a defensive notion to Akers father in letting the world know he has his mother’s back. This 360 turn in the album’s mood at first seems too far from everything else that came before, but after a few listens, the sweet pick-me-up will catch on. That in mind, “7000x” also is electronic based, but lyrically acts as a focal point on the record. A hype track, it signifies the band dusting off their knees and making the choice to get back up after being knocked down.
Back on their feet, Judah & the Lion bring their live show energy into the “GoofBallerz,” a song which reflects the humbleness of a band not being afraid to poke at themselves and remind listeners to just have fun. Then a thick rumbling bass brings comfort for feel-good track “JOYBOY” where the guys look on the bright side of things, committing to living the best life they can.
Continuing the theme of positivity, “Passion Fashion” is a second wind of life with a guest spot from Jon Bellion who adds an ‘this is my time attitude’ with joyous, upbeat vocals. Coming to a close, “Family/Best is Yet to Come” displays a shaking voice message from Akers’ mother and transforms the ballad into a hopeful ball of energy. Concluding Pep Talk the best way possible, Judah & the Lion prove they are not afraid to break the mold musically.
Overall, Judah & the Lion has done an exceptional job of transforming pain into something beautiful and hopeful. The transparency will only help listeners navigate through their own troubles as they hopefully heal the personal wounds in the process. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Pep Talks 5 out of 5 stars.