Listen to this track by Scandinavian country-folk-indie duo and close-harmony sirens First Aid Kit. It’s “Silver Lining”, a lead single as taken from this year’s album Stay Gold, their third.
Drawing from a love of acts ranging from Bright Eyes to the Carter Family, First Aid Kit is made up of sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, both of Enskede, a borough of Stockholm. Their sound draws from traditions of early country music that’s pretty far removed from what listeners might expect from a couple of Swedes in their early twenties, having started performing together and even writing songs by the time they were in their early teens. And that’s another unexpected dimension to their music; they work within a tradition that values experience that comes with age, and manage to pull it off despite their tender years.
Basically, everything about this band is unexpected, which besides their obvious natural talent may be why they’ve been able to get to work with luminaries like Patti Smith, Fleet Foxes, and Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes. So what does this song illustrate in keeping with the traditions in which they’re hooking into, and the strengths of the band in general? Read more
Here’s a clip of Alaskan, and current Portland Oregon singer-songwriter Emma Hill along with band Her Gentlemen Callers with their newest single, “Meet Me At the Moon”. The song is the lead track from her upcoming record Meet Me At the Moon, set for release in 2011. Hill is an example of American roots music flourishing in every corner of the North American continent (and beyond), and at an age that belies her supremely affecting voice – age 22. But is this the debut of an ingenue? No. It will be her third album, after 2009’s Clumsy Seduction.
Hill’s music is rooted in current and established Anglo-Celtic forms that have produced folk, bluegrass, and modern country music. Her focus is on tight ensemble playing based around strong songwriting, with a background in folk music, singing in a duo while in Alaska. Later, she found herself on her own later as a solo artist in Portland, writing songs from a more personal standpoint.
What can be picked up from this song is how closely knit the musicians are, with each instrument in balance, yet with a casual looseness too, and with a hint of humour (note the quotation of Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ just as the band is warming up as played on the pedal steel guitar). Of course the most obvious highlight is Emma Hill’s pure, effortless voice.
I talked to Emma via email, and asked her about the video, songwriting, the importance of geography, and how someone’s age doesn’t necessarily determine how self-aware they are when it comes to affairs of the heart.
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In my travels, I’ve recently discovered the music of Rachel Unthank & the Winterset. This is a relatively new band which can be described as a traditional folk band from the English region of Northumberland, which is in the North East of England near the Scottish border. The overall effect of the music to my ears is a more palatable Joanna Newsom, yet with something else in there too. It might have something to do with that old belief that when people who are related sing together, some special alchemy occurs; Rachel’s sister Becky sings lead on a few numbers off of their recent album, Bairns. I’m hoping that the record gets a wider release here in North America.
The first track on the album, ‘Felton Lonnin’ is actually in a Northumberland dialect, which I’m guessing is derived from Norwegian origins, since that cultural strain is pretty strong in that area of Britain. Otherwise, the Geordie accents native to the North East come through in the other songs, that accent being unmistakable even among the variety of distinct accents in Britain. The music itself is haunting, rooted in a long-standing tradition of British folk music out of that region, yet highly original too. To me, it evokes long winter nights, not in a bleak way, but rather in a mythical, spiritual sort of way. The melodies are infused with flashes of Nick Drake, with a bit of Vashti Bunyan thrown in. But you can tell too that their roots go pretty deep, and that there is something else there in their music which can’t quite be identified.
You can hear the music on the band’s MySpace page and make up your own mind. Enjoy! And of course tell me what you think!