It’s not every day that an album has the perfect opening track, but “Kickin’ da leaves” by Judah and the Lion is absolutely excellent. The layers harmonies and upbeat tempo introduce a fun-the-whole-way-through album. Seriously this is the kind of album that is so infectious and enjoyable, it seems impossible not to like.
The second track “Hold On” also has the impeccable string work and upbeat tempo, allowing for the high energy of the opener to carry on to the rest of the album. There’s something about this sound that begs for HUGE stages. As much as we tend to think of folk music as being for summer festivals and small listening venues, this kind of track begs for massive arenas. The banjo part is really exciting, giving the song both levity and sincerity. The message of the song is about urging a friend to “hold on,” but when they’re feeling like letting go they should “do your hippy dance.” Amen to that.
Just when you think “okay, got these guys” then the contemplative, even sweet “Everything Changes” slows things down. Even though it becomes anthemic in its own way, the down beat nature of the track at the beginning begs that listeners lean in a bit, letting the lyrics marinate in the mind a bit more deeply. The song and sound reminds me of something Green River Ordinance or NeedToBreathe might produce. Oh… but then… that banjo! “You don’t change for anything!”
So “Twenty-Somethings” is literally a track for a generation. “We don’t know where we’re going, but we’re on the run.” It’s such a perfect track for capturing the difficult stages of being in your twenties, wanting to enjoy the freedom of the age, but being too broke to do much of anything. It’s a great song, complete with a layered gang vocal backdrop that will undoubtedly get festival goers and concert audiences singing along.
“Scared” has a real tangible Nashville influence to it. It really reminds me of something Courrier might do as well. (Actually a lot about them is familiar, like Courrier.) The song itself is about fears, talking about ordinary things like bugs and the dark, but then goes idealistic with it. It’s the kind of song that I wish contemporary country music played. It’s real, with actual human depth without sounding corny. “One thing I know is I’m not scared of being alone.” There’s even a gentle sense of a relationship with the divine – which is a wise thing to include here.
If this album had to have one “single” it’s definitely “Rich Kids.” It’s well written, well executed, and has a natural crescendo in its structure that is powerful. It’s the definitive “add to my running playlist” song. “We’re rich, but we ain’t got no money.” It’s about values, living life to the full, and really embracing a particular kind of joy in life. It’s so great for us creative types to remember that fiscal success is not really what it’s cracked up to be. “Now you’re old and want to go back, but you can’t…” May we never grow into that kind of regret!
“Love in Me” has claps. It’s the closest thing to a “pop country” sound on the whole album. That said, it uses the banjo and overall song structure to tell a deeper, more fulfilling story than most of what contemporary country music has to over. It’s about the brokenness of the world all around us, but making choices to have integrity and “new life.” It’s far more spiritually heavy than it might sound at first blush.
“Water” is just a peculiar sound. It uses an electronic beat with banjo instrumentation and a blues riff. Seriously it’s the craziest mashup. The “you feel the water rising up” repetitive refrain does much to build the anticipation within the song. While listening one cannot help but think “oh no… where’s this going!?” It’s a tense song about an intimate message with a special. It seems to have a deeper meaning I can’t quite tease out, but it’s definitely no mistake that it’s such an experimental exoskeleton what seems like a deceptively simple premise.
The last track “Somewhere In-Between” has a real twangy folk feel to it. The most like a traditional narrative folk song (even with a lyric about his grandpa’s hat), it tells the story of the songwriter’s originality. “I ain’t no hipster… I ain’t no redneck… I guess I lie somewhere in between.” It’s a great sentiment, and one I can picture playing well at a place like SXSW or on Bourbon Street. Not a farmer or a city slicker, but somewhere in between. It’s a song about identity, pride, and being yourself. And it’s just pretty beautiful.
This is an excellent album from start to finish. To be honest, I sat on it for a while, listening over and over trying to figure out the nuances of what made it just so good. I’m still not entirely sure what gives this band and this album such magnetism, but they’re addictively good. They are bound to find a lot of fans from this website. It’s a must-own album for fans of pop folk music, especially for people who enjoy great harmonies and clever songwriting.