Nashville-based folk/Americana band Judah & the Lion's new EP "Sweet Tennessee" slides down the throat easy, like sweet tea and Sunday afternoons.
The seven member band, led by lead singer Judah Akers, banjo player Nate Zuercher and mandolinist Brian Macdonald, released their follow up to 2012's EP, "First Fruits," on April 16, rocketing to the top of the iTunes singer/songwriter charts.
After listening to the new 6-song EP on repeat for the past week, it's easy to see why these Belmont students and alums have been so successful. "Sweet Tennessee" combines meaningful, southern-influenced lyrics with a variety of folk instruments. The result is a smooth and refreshing set of songs that will have your foot tapping and your brain reminiscing nostalgically on easier times.
"Sweet Tennessee" also shows how deftly Judah & the Lion balance their faith background with their passion for music. The first track on the EP, "Back Against the Wall" starts softly with Akers musing on the difficulty of showing outward signs of the faith within him. He encourages others facing these struggles of faith with the chorus: "Stand strong, hold onto hope\ Grab on, Don't ever let it go\When your back's against the wall\you're not alone."
"Hesitate" continues their theme of quieter introductions featuring the mandolin, banjo and acoustic guitar that lead into a more upbeat chorus and bridge. The banjo keeps things moving as Ackers continues to sing about spirituality, and the crowd cheers and claps leading into the instrumental section after the bridge that features violin woven throughout.
Third track "Our Love" is a slower, more ballad-esque song that chronicles the loneliness of the road to finding one's way in the world and the strength found in love. It also features more female vocal harmony, balancing Akers' voice nicely throughout this somewhat sad middle track that gives a Civil Wars-kind of vibe to the album.
With track four, we arrive at the title track "Sweet Tennessee." This song brings a nice break from the faith/love centered slow songs with an ode to, you guessed it, Tennessee. This song is much more percussion laden, giving drummer Spencer Cross a chance to show his skill. It's any Tennessee native's dream to have a song like this written about the state. It is less of an anthem than Skynard's counterpart "Sweet Home Alabama," but it is also less full of southern ego. It's the kind of song where the longer you listen, the broader your smile gets.
"Seasons Colors" brings a slightly different Akers. His voice is lower, a little rougher and more dedicated. The song ties in the folk elements throughout and poetically describes the seasons of life that change suddenly and without warning.
"When you calloused my skin/ broke my bones/ it left me bleeding ... now I'm still breathing," Akers sings, describing the feeling often present in college students that life is moving in ways that we can't predict, that we'll never have control over. It is the relatability of these lyrics, in part, that makes this album so successful.
The EP finishes on a much more upbeat note with "Southern Ground" as an intensely folky song that talks about getting back to southern roots. It's definitely a dance number that wouldn't exactly be out of place in a hoedown-type setting. This final song offers a lightness that is not found as much in the early tracks.
With the attention to detail and talent that Judah & the Lion brings to this EP, it's easy to see why the album is as sweet as Tennessee.