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My musical ramblings – gig and album reviews, music news and views

First Aid Kit: The Big Black and the Blue – album review

These teenage sisters from Stockholm, Sweden, have made a folk album full of wizened stories and vocal harmonies which utterly belie their real ages.

Klara and Johanna Söderberg are the 90s generation.  Except they play autoharp and acoustic guitar, are positively melancholic rather than mainstream and favour fairisle knitwear over lycra.

Released on 25th January, the 11-tracked The Big Black and the Blue is the follow up to their debut EP, Drunken Trees. But it was the pair’s sublime cover of Fleet Foxes’ Tiger Mountain Pheasant Song that suckered the first punch to make the music world sit up and listen.

Since then they’ve been busy creating this emotive, breathy soundtrack to their lives so far. And even though in a couple of places the album feels a bit samey and the fingers start twitching over the skip button to avoid tracks, it’s nevertheless a lesson in how to do folk properly, with beautifully plucked guitars, heavenly vocals and well-spun yarns to music.

On the first track, In The Morning, the Söderbergs’ echoing harmonies offer more than a hint of the mystical call of the Sirens from O Brother Where Art Thou – no doubt the temptress aura was not a comparison the teen sisters were looking to draw.  The track is a real heart warmer, but if the female vocalists/folk genre isn’t to your leaning, this won’t be your cup of tea; or whatever the hot beverage of choice is amongst the Scandinavians.

Hard Believer offers the same kind of lyrical honesty and accusation as Ida Maria, but without the venom and red wine. It’s anti-faith, anti-preach, but the pair should note that preaching to the contrary of the converted is still preaching. That said, the track is lyrically captivating.

Klara and Johanna have been likened to Joan Baez and Bon Iver in their short careers to date. Heavy Storm’s tale of ‘perhaps’ and Sailor Song will do nothing to refute those comparisons, with their note perfect harmonies and weathered recollections.

Waltz For Richard is a great example of how to pluck the hell out of an acoustic guitar, whilst Josefin offers a slightly more up tempo release to the sometimes ever so slight plod of the insistent folk slow paced rhythms.

The storytelling is none more so obvious than with Ghost Town and I Met Up With A King. The former is an antithesis ballad, if you like, which will strike a chord with anyone who’s held a bit of a torch for someone only to find it’s probably not going to happen. Ever. The latter has the written maturity of a 40-something re-telling a childlike dream of a teenager’s life. Meanwhile, Winter Is All Over You is another startling reminder of the musical and lyrical talent these two young sisters possess.

One thing is for sure, The Big Black and the Blue is not about teen love, a fumble behind the bike sheds and MD 20:20 on a park bench. Considering they were hotly tipped this time last year, on the evidence of this album it’s fair to say First Aid Kit will be on many a hotlist again for 2010. And for anyone who loves a bit of folk, these two will probably be gracing one of the stages you’ll be standing in front of at some point this year.

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