First Aid Kit: Palomino album review - this record’s confidence hints at rock star status

 (press handout)
(press handout)

Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg were found as babes in the woods, teenagers on YouTube singing a Fleet Foxes cover. Their early single, Emmylou, named Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash and Gram Parsons in its romantic chorus. The pair have spoken about being unhappy with some of the comments they received at first: who were these young women, living so far from the land of Americana, to put themselves in such company?

But more than a decade and four albums have passed and the world gets First Aid Kit. Their second and third albums, The Lion’s Roar and Stay Gold, became gold sellers over here, while the fourth, Ruins, was their first top five hit.

They still pay tribute to legends. Their last release was a live recording of a concert of Leonard Cohen songs, and on this album, on Wild Horses II, Gram Parsons is mentioned again. It’s a slow-burning story song about a road trip, during which two travellers discuss who sang Wild Horses better: The Rolling Stones or Parsons’ band The Flying Burrito Brothers.

If you’re looking for Swedish links, there are of course ABBA echoes in the way the pair’s strident voices intertwine on big choruses such as the one on Angel. Palomino is the first First Aid Kit album to be recorded in Stockholm since their debut, and they have a countryman’s help on this one too. Björn Yttling of the band Peter Bjorn and John is a co-writer on several songs. But really they still sound steeped in American country and folk. Fallen Snow winningly mixes a vintage bassline with fiddles and yet more great harmonies. Nobody Knows piles movie score strings onto a shimmering guitar line and could pass for an Everly Brothers cover.

The sisters have admitted that they weren’t in a great place when they made the downbeat Ruins in 2018, with romantic relationships breaking down and feeling a lack of enthusiasm for each other’s company too. In contrast, Palomino frequently sounds euphoric. Out of My Head takes its time introducing its full palette of instrumentation, before the drums come galloping in. A Feeling That Never Came is breezily simple, with its chugging rock guitar and increasingly energetic violins.

“You thought I was some kind of rock star/I was a nervous little kid,” they sing about their early days on Ready to Run. There’s a confidence to these songs that suggests that today, rock star status isn’t far off.