FIRST AID KIT CONTAINS HEALING MUSIC
By Norman Warwick
As a teenager, when my love of the country music that was to become Americana was my guilty, and very much secret, pleasure I was too embarrassed to admit to being a country and western fan lest I be damned by the preconceptions of others about c & w being all about suited and booted cowboys and 100 dollar perm cowgirls singing about how dusty their country roads could be.
I felt a bit more cool when c &w became country, but became more than a little schizophrenic when that became alt-country, though a current classification of Americana has now, I think, provided me with a permanent home.
Saving country music, if that has now been achieved, has been brought about by such fine lines of classification, and even a little bit of mis-appropriation here and there from other genres. At one time I thought the Austin enclave like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle might be our saviours but at other times I pinned hopes on big balladeers like Mickey Newbury. My kind of country girls have always been ladies like Emmylou, Dolly, Linda Rondstadt and from a younger generation the likes of Nanci Griffith, Katy Moffatt and Mary Chapin Carpenter. (right)
We have no right to expect artists to ride to our rescue, though. Riders are meant to commodify, mis-appropriate and fuse to create new forms. They are not supposed to simply re-heat the genre until the world decides it is too tepid to warrant further attention.
When I first became a big fan of American singer-writer Tom Pacheco I wasn´t sure, nor too concerned, as to whether he was folk or country but when he recorded a few songs with a Norwegian singer writer, Steinar Albrigsten, I was surprised to learn there was an enclave of country music clubs over there in Steinar´s glaciers and fjords and that Pacheco played at them. Nevertheless, I loved the album Tom and Steinar recorded, and I classified it as country.
I shouldn´t be too surprised, therefore, to have learned recently that for the last couple of years ago the female duo of First Aid Kit among nominations to become the next saviours of country music. They are, though, sisters from Sweden and, as such, perform below the radar of the average American Roots Consumer. They don´t quite kick enough arse for country (& western) lovers, are a bit too thoughtful for pop music fans and also, too involved for folk.
I was told the above by an on-line reviewer who went on to say that ´the muse of the sisters instead traces it’s own path forward somewhere above it all´ readers of the on-line site were told, ´as one of archaic music forms conveyed through a modern, but still roots-entwined perspective.´
The reviewer added that ´The Söderberg sisters don’t just sing, they soar. Their harmonies are so angelic and adept, the siblings come across more like deities than entertainers, untouchable and ethereal, blessed with immortal capacities, and brought to the Earth only to convey their wisdom in sonnet and rhyme. You fancy they’re more fantastic than real—Johanna’s face like that of a porcelain sculpture, Klara’s insight like that of an ancient ancestor, and the conjoining of their voices in harmony almost too pure for earth-bound ears.´
In case that seems to you to hyperbola write even larger than usual I should tell, that I had never heard of the band until six weeks ago, when I caught them ´by accident´ in some sort of zoom performance of a couple of songs.
Right place, right place and right time and all that but they absolutely ´stoned me just like jelly roll´, so I started searching out their stuff on line and came across Ruins, and haven´t stopped playing it since.
To spill words like angelic, untouchable, ethereal and immortal into any review of them is perhaps even to damn them with faint praise.
I had heard the album before reading the review on the savingcountrymusic web-site, and so didn´t find that overblown in any way, but if you have doubts you need to resolve find any of the youtube performances First Aid Kit have broadcast since the rise of coronavirus. I´m confident you´ll find that description is damned accurate.
Ruins, was actually their fourth full-length record, and on it primary songwriter Klara Söderberg chose to show that however angelic they might sound their songs do indeed bleed human blood. In many ways a traditional breakup record, Ruins chronicled the onset of emotions brought on by Klara’s separation from a recent beau, and reflected some sibling tension within the band.
savingcountrymusic described the album as emerging after an elongated period where the sisters decided to take some time off to catch their breath after a rapturous ascent starting when the two were still teenagers. The reviewer therefore described Ruins as ´an exhalation of thoughts as they enter a more stable era of early adulthood.´
America cannot stake sole claim to this roots band, and so share First Aid Kit with other ports of call, primarily their native Sweden, and the UK.
´Yet Ruins also had a decidedly American thread woven into its narrative,´ I was told at this excellently written site. ´Produced by Tucker Martine of My Morning Jacket fame, it was recorded in Portland, Oregon at Flora Studios, and featured appearances by American musicians Peter Buck of REM, and Wilco’s Glenn Kotche.
Also, Klara and Johanna wrote the album while staying in Los Angeles, with Southern California’s sunny disposition contrasting with the sister pair’s dour moods.´
´Ruins has a handful of riches to add to the duo’s already impressive resume of musical moments´ the reviewer continued, meaning those times where you don’t just enjoy a song or lyric, but a literal shiver runs down the back of your spine, and you emerge from the listening experience a changed person, whether in a mild or monumentous capacity. It’s the crescendos, the sage perspective conveyed in the verses, and the serving of it all with such precise taste and individuality that make First Aid Kit much more than just another Americana band.´
I´m not sure I could have articulated it as well as that, but they were similar to the thoughts I had again recently when seeing another of their lockdown ´virtual´ performances
It must be said though that
https://www.savingcountrymusic.com/album-review-first-aid-kits-ruins/ certainly did not find this album flawless and felt that its ´moments´ were few and farther between than on their previous albums. Nevertheless the reviewer conceded that Ruins still contained plenty of reasons why it would have been such a tragedy if First Aid Kit hadn’t made it through the personal turmoil to this point. The fact that making music is very hard is expertly hidden by brilliant musicians who make it appear so easy. The repetitiveness, the travel, the closeness with one another, the emotional toll of having to bear your soul nightly on stage can make it even more of a grind than even the most monotonous job may appear to require.
Yet they persevered, and you would swear Klara and Johanna Söderberg are beyond this world by what they’re able to achieve when they rise in song together.´
More than that, though, they not only survived but went on to recently release a sublime cover single of a Willie Nelson song.
Anything he writes is irresistible to fans and fellow musicians alike. On The Road Again filled a space in the narrative of his film The Honeysuckle Rose many years ago. It was a grammy winning song for him but First Aid Kit have recognised that the lyrics have a strange poignancy in these days when musicians cannot actually go out on the road.
In their first recording since Ruins, two years ago, the sisters deliver a tuneful, pedal steel driven interpretation, and are donating the proceeds to the charity, Crew Nation, which provides help for backstage workers who find themselves in troubled circumstances.
Meanwhile, there is a lady who really was seen to be savingcountrymusic, at least in a commercial sense when a string of pop-fuelled country hits at least raised country music´s profile when it most needed that. As if to remind us of that Shania Twain has been busy recording duets with performers from country music, such as Orville Peck, and the pop world on the ballad Legends Never Die, and with pop performers like Ronan Keating.
Shania has a Vegas season lined up, but to more fully consider the merits of that, look out for our upcoming feature on Paul McCartney and why he won´t be following her down that particular freeway, preferring as he does The Long And Winding Road.
I have loved the work, commercial soft rock as it was, of Shania and whilst I was always an admirer of The Beatles´ body of work, Paul McCartney, with and without wings, has also supplied a huge part of the soundtrack of my life. The other day, though, feeling a little overwhelmed by these strange times in Lanzarote when our airport and shipping harbours are standing virtually idle and when our islanders are worrying for their children´s future, and I couldn´t turn on the tv for fear of seeing all the ridiculous things happening in the UK as covid19 continues as such a threat, I turned instead to my You Tube.
I found one showing Emmylou Harris in tears of joy as he listened to a First Aid Kit that might not only be ´savingcountrymusic´ but also might just contain music so beautiful it could heal the world. The duo is classified in the record shops and on the radio as being ´Americana´ and we will be following Sidetracks & Detours pretty frequently over the rest of the year in search of more of the best music in the record stores !