“The Lion’s Roar” From First Aid Kit, Sweden’s Answer To Emmylou And Alison Krauss.

first-aid-kit-lions-roarThe Lion’s Roar is the second album from Sweden’s First Aid Kit, comprising of sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg, both of whom are barely into their 20s. After their debut The Big Black And The Blue from 2010, they naturally gravitated to America to record their sophomore effort, turning to Mike Mogis to produce it.

As well as being one of the three core members of Nebraska’s stellar Bright Eyes, where he serves as producer and multi-instrumentalist, Mogis has also worked on albums by the likes of Jenny Lewis and her band Rilo Kiley, and M Ward and his, She And Him.

While there are clear echoes of Jenny Lewis throughout The Lion’s Roar, it’s Nashville’s Caitlin Rose that most readily springs to mind, whose debut Own Side Now I reviewed here earlier.

As with Rose, there’s a world weariness to the songs here that somehow manages to be credible, not withstanding the unlikelihood that either of the manifestly jejune siblings could ever have gravitated beyond mere mischief in their brief lives. And if the songs here sound ever so slightly less lived-in that those on Own Side Now, that can probably be put down to the added difficulty of having to pen them in a foreign language.

What’s so beguiling about this album, as with Rose’s, is the alchemical marriage of a timeless musical tradition, with a vocal delivery that rings of unblemished innocence and, there’s no other word for it, purity. This potent combination is then deployed to lament a prematurely crushed spirit and a permanently broken heart. It’s a heady mix.

The boys from Pravda gave it an impressed 7.6 http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/16205-the-lions-roar/.

And the perceptive review there remarked with quiet surprise, that there aren’t too many girls who would try referencing Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons as the basis for a chat up line, as they do here on the second track, Emmylou. It’s not so much that there aren’t too many who’d get away with it. There aren’t too many who would try it, full stop. But they do, and it’s bewitching.

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Caitlin Rose – “Own Side Now” + Laura Cantrell “Kitty Wells Dresses”

Caitlin Rose "Own Side Now".

Caitlin Rose “Own Side Now”.

Just as all who are consumed by drama will one day gravitate to Shakespeare, so too anyone who’s serious about the craft of song writing will eventually home in on country music.

It was to Nashville that Dylan travelled when he put aside his childish things to record the monumental Blonde on Blonde. And when he went back east, it was not to the Village but to Woodstock so that he and the Band could re-imagined their musical heritage.

That legacy is evident today everywhere. From Emmylou Harris, T Bone Burnett and Daniel Lanois to the new roots Americana of Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver and Iron and Wine.

Bob Dylan "Nashville Skyline".

Bob Dylan “Nashville Skyline”.

What’s so refreshing about the 24 year old Caitlin Rose is that she somehow manages to sidestep all of that, without in any way ignoring it. Like Gillian Welsh, she manages to sound both timeless and contemporary.

But her debut album Own Side Now harks back not so much to the 70s as it does to the 50s. So that whilst Welsh is drawn to existential introspection, Rose is felled by that Nashville perennial, a broken heart. What they both share is a flawless capacity to fuse lyrics of searing honesty with painfully beautiful melodies.

In For The Rabbits for instance, Rose entreats her departed man to,

“Fall back into my absent arms, Fall back into routine disaster, Habit’s the only place that you call home.

Fall back into my desperate arms, Fall back into this old disaster, ‘Cos it’s better than spending all your nights alone.”

It’s as much an accusation as it is a plea, and is aimed equally at herself as it is at him. But the desperation evoked is lifted and sent skyward by the Heavenly vocals, and the combination of pain and pleasure that results is intoxicating.

It’s a stunning piece of work, and is one of the best albums in the last decade. At least. And, whilst she’s not part of any actual movement, there clearly does seem to be something afoot, as it’s terrain that’s traversed similarly by Laura Cantrell in the states and, in a very English way, by Laura Marling in the UK.

Laura Cantrell "Kitty Welles' Dresses".

Laura Cantrell “Kitty Welles’ Dresses”.

Cantrell emerged in 2000 when her justly lauded debut Not The Tremblin Kind was described by none other than John Peel as possibly his favourite album ever. Her latest, Kitty Wells Dresses makes that 50s connection explicit. The title track that the album opens with is Cantrell’s, but the other nine are covers of songs recorded by the now 93 year old Kitty Wells, as she blazed a trail for Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton.

But even when covering songs originally penned in the 50s, there’s something in the way that Cantrell delivers them that renders them simultaneously timeless and yet somehow un-mistakenly contemporary.

It’s this fusion of tradition and of the modern that make Caitlin Rose and Laura Cantrell so musically relevant, and it’s their visceral honesty that make their songs so emotionally engaging.

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