Aching and wistful, First Aid Kit is classic folk music from an unlikely source: Sweden. Sister-duo Johanna and Klara Söderberg grew up in the suburbs of Stockholm, but their voices have the nostalgic wavering twang of American country. The title track “The Lion’s Roar” is strong stuff, building up twangy guitars with piano, wailing harmonies and oddly appropriate Renaissance Fair-esque flutes. While the guitar remains constant throughout the album, the Söderberg sisters switch things up from song to song by throwing cymbals, harps, violins and xylophones into the mix. Half of the songs are suited for staring out bus windows watching the sunset filter through the fields racing past, while the other half is for walking across cold wooden floorboards on a sleepless night. Either way, there’s something nostalgic about the plucked acoustic strings and fearless harmonies that make this album the perfect soundtrack to set your daydreams to.
Trial track: “Emmylou”
– Alyssa Tremblay
The latest from Nashville singer-songwriter Jessie Baylin is a sentimental journey down memory lane. She and her band have done well modernizing the quintessential 1960’s orchestral pop-diva sound, and Baylin is well aware of her strengths: a clear, feminine voice that slips, at times, into a charming Southern drawl and a knack for expressing heartache, longing and new beginnings. There’s just something about this album, though, that makes me think she’s either holding back or holding out. On “Hurry Hurry,” Baylin admits to “sipping on a hidden stash of whiskey”―a split second of attitude. The album could use a little more of that. Baylin has managed to keep herself one step ahead of her twenty-something contemporaries, but just barely. The platform for that Nashville, old-time country-infused pop sound is a crowded one and she’ll have to step it up a notch if she wants to keep the fire alive.
Trial track: “Holiday”
– Lindsay Briscoe
While many of the elements that characterize her style—the country-folk inspiration, her quiet voice—are still there, it’s clear that Edwards was up for something new on her fourth studio album. The divergence from her tried and true is possibly the result of her divorce from long-time collaborator Colin Cripps and the start of a new relationship with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. After releasing one of, if not the best album of 2011, Vernon’s influence is welcomed with open arms. Edwards embraces drama in her songs, allowing long instrumental passages to speak for themselves. While her personal life is marked by a break-up and a subsequent hook-up, the theme of her new album is more about the grey space in between those relationships. This means there’s a fair amount of Edwards’ trademark, slower-paced sound, alongside some more upbeat tunes. Voyageur shows the evolution of an artist who still allows her roots to shine through.
Trial track: “Sidecar”
– Dominique Daoust
Following his divorce from The Beatles and a string of undeniably patchy outputs with backing band Wings, Paul McCartney found himself at a crossroads. Wanting to breathe new life into his music, McCartney chose to fly to Lagos, Nigeria where he proceeded to create his most successful solo effort to date. Recorded in a country in political turmoil, the endeavour was not without its adventures. Along with being robbed at knifepoint and suffering from a bronchial spasm due to excessive smoking, McCartney was also confronted by famed activist and artist Fela Kuti, who was concerned that McCartney’s band was exploiting African sounds for Western consumption. In actuality, Band on the Run did not absorb much of the local flavour. Catchy, fun and undeniably created by the most mainstream Beatle, the album is a pop rock masterpiece. Somewhat edgy but still accessible, Band on the Run remains an essential record for Beatles fans everywhere.
Trial track: “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five”
– Cora Ballou