Sweden’s First Aid Kit have been strongly influenced by Americana music. They have lived in the US during the past decade and are best known by many for their song “Emmylou”, a tribute to the unofficial queen of Americana music, Emmylou Harris. The duo recently returned to Sweden and recorded their latest album in Stockholm. Their newest release, Palomino, still reveals the heavy influence of the States on their music. However, they have expanded their sound and become more pop-oriented. They have cited acts such as Fleetwood Mac and Hall & Oates as influences, especially in adding a fuller sonic palette to their repertoire.
The Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg harmonize in ways that allow both voices to sing lead on the same song, even when they take turns with the lyrics. The results suggest these women are of one mind. The instrumentation on the album is generally upbeat. Songs like the title track superficially seem positive in contrast to the more uncertain mindset of the tunes’ narrators. The contrast adds complexity to the life lessons expressed.
Back in April 2022, Miranda Lambert released her ninth album, Palomino. Lambert used the titular horse to symbolize running free and wild beauty. The palomino has a long history in song and story of standing for these traits. Roy Roger’s Trigger was a palomino (as was television’s Mr. Ed!). However, this time the message is more mixed. The narrator of the First Aid Kit track “Palomino” may be fierce and untethered, but only because her lover has left her. He has released her to ride off with the wind in her hair and the fire in her breath, but at what cost?
“I’ve been afraid all of my life / Crippled with anxiety shame and doubt,” the two sisters sing on “Angel”. They want more. “So give me love and give me compassion / Self-forgiveness and give me some passion / I’ll love you even if you don’t love me, oh oh / I’ll love you even if you can’t love me.” First Aid Kit may proclaim their freedom, but it’s not enough. They are “Ready to Run”, as the sisters croon on another track because they can’t find a place where they are wanted.
The idea of moving on help keeps the background music lively. Except as the sisters note on several cuts, such as “Turning Onto You” and “Fallen Snow”, they end up returning to the places they left behind, although now they leave the windows open. Their escape hatch doesn’t lead anywhere.
In sweet voices, the duo admits they have no sense of direction. That prevents their protagonists from having adventures or changing into someone who has learned from past mistakes. “I thought I couldn’t change / So I didn’t even try”, the two sing in one voice on the clever “Wild Horses II”. It offers a dialogue between two people on a road trip who prefer dissimilar versions of the classic country rocker “Wild Horses”. One chooses the Rolling Stones, while the other picks Gram Parsons. There is a delicious irony in using a song called “Wild Horses” on an album called Palomino to express irreconcilable differences,
First Aid Kit are no longer a one-trick pony—that horse being Americana. There are still tracks that would be right at home on an Everly Brothers record, but unlike the sentiments expressed by their first-person narrators, these 11 songs show the band has taken a step forward.