Judah & the Lion’s Pep Talks was inspired by front man Judah Akers’ parents’ recent divorce. Like most divorces, this is a messy story. The music reflects the chaotic circumstances of Akers’ emotional bombshell. Therefore, although the songs travel a fairly consistent lyrical path, musical styles do not always follow suit. What the album lacks in auditory tidiness, though, it more than makes up for with sincerity.
Lead off single, “Pictures” featuring this year’s breakout country star, Kacey Musgraves, is a beauty. While super sad (all about taking down pictures of a now-broken family from the walls of their formerly united home), Musgraves adds a lovely, empathetic duet vocal atop a pretty mandolin bed. In sonic contrast, though, “Don’t Mess With My Mama” exchanges sadness for anger. Anger is directed at Akers’ father with this song. “Family / Best is Yet to Come” features a phone message from Akers’ mother, commenting on the finished album. It leaves with one the feeling that – at least for now – Akers has sided with his mom in this separation.
“I’m ok.” Is one of the weirdest tracks on the album. It includes what can best be described as a rapped section, as well an angry response to everybody that keeps asking Akers if he’s okay. One titled “7000x” is also a little unusual – at least for the usually roots-y Judah & the Lion – as it incorporates both EDM elements with banjo. It shows how Judah & the Lion has more in common with Musgraves than just a song together.
There aren’t many sounds of hope on Pep Talks. One exception is the anthemic “alright (frick it),” which includes the chanted, “We’re gonna be alright.” With everything else that surrounds it, song-wise, one wonders if this sentiment is more wish than prediction. Let’s hope the voice Akers is hearing in his head, assuring him everything will be alright, is telling him the truth.
It’s ironic how Akers calls out for a pep talk during “Quarter-Life Crises.” Not that there’s anything wrong with pep talks; however, broken family blues are ever fixed by some kind of motivational speech. Instead, the catharsis provided by singing it all out with this album, has got to help some.