Authenticity is a surprisingly tricky concept to judge in the arts now that all the barriers have collapsed around our ears. Who are we to say what is aesthetically ‘right’ in this golden age of cross cultural pollination and fusion. Let Taylor Swift appropriate another culture’s slang to protect her merchandise profits. Let Iggy Azalea pretend to be from Brooklyn. Let those lovely West Londoners ‘Mumford & Sons’ pack a stadium with a breezily dilute take on Americana. Just let them, after all they’re not hurting anybody. Are they? I don’t know. I mentioned my feelings about the Mumfords before and while I respect their right to do their thing, it just leaves me hollow. The music may be good but there is very little depth to it; it just passes the ears with nothing substantial to hook it to the brain. It lacks power because the artists simply haven’t lived the genre, and that’s fine. If the music is pleasing then whatevs, none of this matters during those few minutes of numb buzzing. But if you want something better; go to the source.
Now for a completely unrelated tangent; last weekend I braved both the Scandinavian cold and the bus system to go watch a band I had never seen nor heard before. It was very surreal; lot’s of Swedish families sitting down with their coffees as Judah & the Lion played their pop inflected folk-americana. I wanted to dance. I wanted to dance so much; but everybody else seemed quite content in letting the music flow into them as a force. So I sat and joined them and let the sound hook into every little tendril of my being. What do I mean by authentic? I mean hearing how each song was written as a reflection on Judah’s life. How he had never seen much of the world until a couple of years ago when the band gained traction. How he is rich in spirit regardless of finance. How he sings with a southern growl because, well, he’s from the South and that’s the way people are taught to sing. The music was honest and real and that gave it power. It was a dang good show. I bought the CD.
‘Kids These Days’ is also, dang good. An exhilarating mix of bluegrass instrumentations with liberal pop hooks. Pealing banjo lines and choppy mandolin chords play over synth-bass and groove drumming. It’s both grand and intimate in it’s scope. The expansive choruses of ‘Hold On‘ balance the quiet reflection of ‘Everything Changes‘. In short there is depth here and that makes me happy. I’ve read them described as ‘uplifting nu-folk‘ and they certainly raise your spirits high into the clouds. But this is old music; music with soul and roots and history presented in newer, sharper clothes. An old music with experience enough to authoritatively tell us ‘the simple things in life are the only things that really matter’; because it has lived it and it knows. These aren’t lyrics cribbed from motivational cat posters; they personally happened. That makes it authentic. It makes it tangible. At least to me.
I don’t know; you just don’t often see genres melding together so honestly, let alone have the result be so sustained and enjoyable. To think that a small corner of frozen Sweden could introduce me to such Tennessee warmth. Give them a listen. Buy the t-shirt (it’s a good t-shirt). You’ll be happier for the experience.