Out of the Scandinavian woodlands comes a true-blue American country album from Swedish sister singer-songwriters First Aid Kit. The young Johanna and Klara Soderberg hail from Stockholm, but recorded their sophomore effort, The Lion’s Roar, in Omaha, Nebraska. The change of scenery marks not a stylistic departure, but a richer exploration of the duo’s roots in American folk music.
It began three years ago, when the Soderbergs — then teenage fans of Fleet Foxes — uploaded their cover of “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” to YouTube. What began as a fan video became a hit and the start of a career, due to the Soderbergs’ emotionally-arresting vocals.
On The Lion’s Roar, First Aid Kit’s strength continues to be their remarkably self-assured voices in close harmony. Whereas their debut, The Big Black & the Blue, was charming in its own humble way, First Aid Kit blossoms into a more lush sound by focusing on the deep traditions of ’60s and ’70’s country music on the new album.
Case-in-point, the second single “Emmylou” is a warm hug of a ballad, with steel guitars and references to classic country artists. The Americana romanticism creates coherence, which was lacking on the stripped-down debut.
Thankfully for fans averse to country, First Aid Kit bypasses drawling corniness, keeping the tunes sincere with dark undertones. The title track summons gloom in a grand wall of country rock. The rest of the album is sunnier, but deep sadness lingers in the lyrics.
Despite the sorrow, the sisters’ bright voices make the affair a healing mood-lifter. While First Aid Kit began in the shadow of Fleet Foxes, their recent take on weaving harmonies, brimming with emotions and music history, means they’re clearing a path for themselves.