On their third full-length, Pep Talks, quirky Nashville trio Judah & the Lion continue to explore the boundaries laid out on their self-descriptive 2016 breakout, Folk Hop n' Roll. Led by singer/guitarist Judah Akers along with mandolinist Brian Macdonald and banjo player Nate Zuercher, the band emerged out of Belmont University's folk scene in 2012, briefly positioning themselves as a worship band before turning to a particularly vibrant secular approach that mixed soaring indie folk, bluegrass, pop, electronica, and hip-hop. Their sense of uplift and defiance has remained a throughline in each of their releases and is the guiding focus of 2019's Pep Talks. In general, subtlety takes a back seat with Judah and his crew, who hit nearly every track hard with a combination of rafter-rattling folk choruses, pounding pop rhythms, emo-tinged raps, digital flourishes, and an unwaveringly earnest tone that colors each overripe genre they manage to cram into a single track. More emotionally vulnerable, yet even less cohesive than prior outings, at 17 tracks Pep Talks is a well-meaning but burdensome set.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger