Band: Judah & The Lion
Title: First Fruits EP
Release Date: 06/19/12
Reviewer: Josh Hamm
- An Anthem Of Invitation
- Lift Up My Soul
- Fill This House
- Love Your Love
- Torn Apart
- Hundred Miles
Judah & The Lion came out of nowhere. This three piece based out of Nashville, TN did what a great many other independent artists are doing: release a single through Noisetrade. Now, I love Noisetrade, I love the concept and the generosity of artists to give away music for free, but what I don’t like is that sometimes it’s hard to sift through all the mediocre ones to find something truly special. I believe that Judah & The Lion are one of those special somethings.
Simplicity is key on the First Fruits EP, as primary instruments are the acoustic guitar, mandolin, and banjo, although I definitely hear some strings in a few places. The comparison that instantly springs to mind is Mumford and Sons. Both have an uncanny ability to write simple yet incredibly intricate, compelling and intriguing songs. Of course, Judah & The Lion still have a ways to go to perfect the rough edges, as a few of the songs sound quite similar and follow the same general pattern.
Still, almost everything is spot on in the EP. It starts off strong. “An Anthem Of Invitation” has great gang vocals and a thunderous beat while “Lift Up My Soul,” is a rousing banjo led number which does exactly as the title describes: I can’t listen to the song without letting a smile creep over my face and my mood uplifted. They slow things down with “Fill This House,” a call for God to fill them with His presence. Frontman Judah Akers perfectly describes the purpose of the album as he sings out: “We’ve come to give glory/we’ve come to give praise/…we’ve come to encounter/Jesus our King.” It’s a very worshipful song which is accessible enough to be sung at churches yet retains enough musicianship that it’s satisfying to those with high standards.
The latter half of the album is just as good as the first. “Love Your Love” is another inspiring, perfectly executed bluegrass song with the banjo, guitar, and especially the mandolin firing on all cylinders. “Torn Apart” begins with soft, harmonious male and female voices over a lush instrumentation, as they sing out “torn apart/You paid my price/the wrath of God was satisfied/in trade for sin/You gave me life.” The EP closes on one of my favourites of the album, “Hundred Miles.” It’s a slow but builds as they sing “O my soul/sing praise with me you heavenly host/ Cause I can’t help myself/there is no one else/and I could sing a song a hundred miles long.” It ends on a rousing chorus of hallelujahs that fit perfectly.
What I also find remarkable about this album is the production value. It never feels overly manufactured or fake, but it also doesn’t feel like it was recorded in somebody’s bedroom. It’s absolutely impeccable. It has a very polished sound while still retaining a bit of the rough, earthy feel of bluegrass and folk music.
I already mentioned that one of the problems I have with the First Fruits EP is the repetitiveness of some of the songs. “Lift Up My Soul” and “Love Your Love” sound similar, as do “Torn Apart” and “Hundred Miles.” Now, because of how much I enjoyed the music and the nuances between each, it isn’t too much of an issue, but it’s enough to cause concern. It isn’t an album I’d listen to over and over, it’s enjoyable, but apart for a couple of the stand out songs, it didn’t get caught in my head enough to warrant constant play.
A problem I find a little more complex to address is the lyrics. The lyrics in First Fruits EP aren’t anything special. I don’t know if they’ve all been done before, but they aren’t exceptionally unique. There are some phrases on “Lift Up My Soul,” “Love Your Love,” “Torn Apart” and “Hundred Miles” that resonated with me, but as a whole I didn’t find it particularly creative. That does disappoint me, as lyrics are usually the highlight of an album for me. Compared to a lot of other worship music though, I would hazard that these lyrics connect with me more than a great many others, even if they don’t compare with some of the best. However, what I will say about Judah & The Lion is that they are trying to create an atmosphere of worship and adulation to God. They accomplish that very well. This is a go to album for focusing on accessible worship without sacrificing musical integrity. And if this EP is any indication, watch these guys for great things in the future.
Overall: With exceptional musicianship and a genuine pursuit of worship, it’s hard not to enjoy the sincerity and ability of Judah & The Lion’s First Fruits EP. Featuring stirring bluegrass anthems and beautiful folk ballads, there’s not a single weak song to be found. Banjo, guitar, mandolin, cello, every instrument is exquisitely played, and the vocals blend marvellously together. From the opening song, they make their intention loud and clear: to worship. Once you hear begin to listen, you’ll want to stop what you’re doing and join in with them.
RIYL: Mumford and Sons, The Civil Wars, ElisaRay, Gungor, Needtobreathe, David Crowder*Band