On The Lion’s Roar, it’s quite clear that First Aid Kit have long since left behind the serene Swedish fields where they were discovered in favour of giving themselves entirely to the rich, vast history of Americana-tinged folk music, the dusty echoes of which inhabit all of their new songs like long-lost old friends. Though Johanna and Klara Söderberg journeyed all the way to Omaha, Nebraska to record their sophomore record, it wasn’t much of a stretch for them to tap further into the elaborate storytelling and genuine songwriting that pulses through the heart of the straightforward musical traditions of the Midwest.
And while there was an elegant, innocent charm to First Aid Kit’s lovely debut, The Lion’s Roar represents a bold, distinct leap forward for the Söderberg sisters, one that will clearly take them into the hearts of many more music fans on both sides of the pond, not to mention larger live venues and festival stages. This stirring, striking new album will surely (in a just world, at least) find First Aid Kit a wider audience, although this resolute new batch of songs remains intensely personal and intimate, like the whispered longings and frustrations of two siblings talking candidly to each other long after the lights have been shut off and everyone else has gone to bed.
The record opens with the faintly Dylanesque title track, and the lush vocals and plaintive melody of the number lulls the listener in to a temporary sense of calm before the bracing chorus of “And I’m a goddamn coward, but then again so are you” snaps us out of our reverie as the song churns insistently forward amidst the sisters’ stately harmonies. And they keep our attention fixed with the gorgeous ‘Emmylou’, an affectionate love letter to the timeless impact of Emmylou Harris, June Carter, Gram Parsons, and Johnny Cash. First Aid Kit clearly don’t feel the need to deny or shy away from their influences, and in fact proudly name-check them here for those obtuse listeners who are slow to catch on. The fact that they were able to fit the names of theses luminaries so reverentially into their lyrics only adds to the song’s tender potency.
The graceful album continues to soar, with the dreamy elegance of ‘In The Hearts Of Men’ and the subtle nod to Joni Mitchell on the deceptively buoyant ‘Blue’ maintaining the strong start. Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis adds a restrained but welcome texture to the stark songs with his sagacious production, the small sonic flourishes he brings to the proceedings augmenting the emotions and impact of the songs themselves, without ever outshines Johanna and Klara’s dignified presence. ‘To A Poet’ is a perfect example of this balance, as the dramatic resonance of the number is raised by the various strings, horns and keys that tastefully illuminate the haunting melody.
“Everything gets tiresome, everything grows old/With each secret revealed there’s another to be told”, the Söderbergs sing, emphatically, on ‘Dance To Another Tune’ – perhaps preemptively striking out at the critics who may find their auspicious backstory and delicate songs too cute to last. But that’s just it: there is a distinct timeless quality to these tracks, as Johanna and Klara unabashedly borrow traces of the most durable songs from the dawn of radio’s unsteady beginnings through the fitful digital age, giving these faintly familiar melodies a fresh, modern spin, one which tastefully makes the old sound new again. And by the time they get to the triumphant closer ‘King Of The World’ they have made believers of us all, including Connor Oberst and the Felice Brothers, who jubilantly join in the final song’s celebratory choir, having long since bought into the redemptive healing power of the glorious music of First Aid Kit.