The Lions Roar, by First Aid Kit
Suggested by Phillip Staines
As the old Internet song goes, “Where can you see lions? / Only in Kenya. / Come to Kenya, we’ve got lions.”
Lions have a pedigree in modern music. Who can forget Tight Fit’s classic The Lion Sleeps Tonight, a cover of an old Solomon Ntsele tune originally written in Zulu? Then there’s Baddiel and Skinner’s anthemic footballing belter Three Lions, not to be confused with the wonderful Chris Morris film Four Lions. Bob Marley also leapt on the Lion Train, stressing his resolve to be iron like a lion, in Zion. And then there’s Snoop Dee-Oh-Double-Gee, who changed his name for a time to Snoop Ell-Eye-Oh-Enn, unless I dreamt that, because no one ever mentions it.
First Aid Kit, and apparently Swedish folk duo, boarded the Lion Bus in 2012 with their second album. Having never heard of them before, I was hugely surprised to hear of their country of origin, as their sound is pure Americana country folk. To me, at least. Sarah, my wife, thinks they sound Irish, a statement that has me a sixes and sevens. Is my internal geographical radar in need of calibration?
The Lions Roar is a remarkably assured album, packed with interesting and delicate folk-inspired numbers with beautiful vocals and a quirky yet layered musicality. The duo consist of Swedish sisters, both singers and songwriters, who were aged twenty-two and nineteen at the time of this album’s release, so the maturity and confidence on display is nothing short of breath-taking. It’s a modern sound throughout, from their husky and melancholic title track The Lions Roar to the excellent final song Wolf, with its measured metre and ever-so-slight Jolene soundalike tinge.
Both Johanna and Klara Soderberg take vocal duties, and the harmony created is sublime. Their voices, singular, are full of character and charm, appearing husky and harrowing as the mood of the music dictates. Most of the songs lean to the upbeat, in approach if not in outright action. While each one is a peach, there are some deserving of higher praise than others. Blue is a melodic track with pairs a happy xylophone with a more depressive lyric than you’d expect. King of the World is at first blush a quite confusing song, but it’s never anything more than a step from sanity, and there’s a fine cameo appearance from Conor Oberst and The Felice Brothers, whoever the hell they are. But the best track, for me, is the wonderful Emmylou. It’s the most countrified track on the album, a romantic homage to the sisters’ idols, and the perfect choice for any playlist of you’re a fan of the country-folk form.
The Lions Roar gets a high 7/10 from me. While this might seem miserly considering my effusive commentary, it’s still an album of country folk songs when all is said and done. While the genre ain’t my particular sausage, I’ve happy I’ve spent an hour in the Soderbergs’ company, and will gladly do so again. And if countrified folk songs are you go-to sweetmeats, I’m happy for you: you may have just found a new favourite band.