FIRST AID KIT: Palomino (Columbia)
Verdict: Sweden meets Nashville
BARBRA STREISAND: Live At The Bon Soir (Legacy)
Verdict: Birth of a legend
TOM ODELL: Best Day Of My Life (Urok)
Verdict: Best record of his career
A year ago this week, the music world celebrated the return of Abba, who delighted fans with the release of Voyage, their first new studio album in 40 years and a comeback that whetted the appetite for their dazzling digital concerts in London.
The reappearance of fellow Swedes First Aid Kit, with their first new songs in almost five years, won’t register quite as dramatically on pop’s Richter scale. But the band’s last studio record, Ruins, reached No 3 in the UK charts at the start of 2018 — and the playful harmonies of new album Palomino pack an equally persuasive punch.
Like Abba’s Voyage, Palomino was made in Stockholm with the group, sisters Klara and Johanna Soderberg, recording in their hometown for the first time since 2010. Unlike Ruins, a heartache LP inspired by the end of Klara’s engagement, Palomino is sunny and resilient.
The band’s last studio record, Ruins, reached No 3 in the UK charts at the start of 2018 — and the playful harmonies of new album Palomino pack an equally persuasive punch
There are traces of the folky Americana of the band’s initial albums —records that won them a surprising admirer in former Prime Minister David Cameron, who admitted ‘sneaking in’ to one of their early UK shows, at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, in 2012.
There are also songs here that tap into the Nashville storytelling tradition and 1960s country-soul.
Track of the week
LIFT ME UP by RIHANNA
Rihanna returns, not with an Umbrella-like banger but a hymnlike ballad. Taken from Marvel’s upcoming Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, her first single in six years opens with strings and heavenly humming before her rich voice takes over. I predict an Oscar
But any retro flavours are offset by assured moves towards more modern Scandi-pop: rousing choruses worthy of Norwegian singer Sigrid (who in a curious twist of fate today releases an acoustic, folky version of her current album How To Let Go).
At the heart of it all are the vocals of guitarist Klara, 29, and bassist Johanna, 32. First Aid Kit’s harmonies have ripened with age, adding a more mature edge to songs that tackle growing pains, the aftermath of affairs and the joys of a post-pandemic road trip — the open highway as a metaphor for getting on with life is a recurring motif.
‘Like a prisoner, set me free,’ they thunder on Out Of My Head, a track that casts them as robust rockers rather than flannel-clad folkies.
Country number Angel addresses the need to overcome fears and inhibitions. A Feeling That Never Came looks back, with mixed emotions, on an old flame.
There are some great ballads. An old romance is dissected on Ready To Run (‘You thought I was some kind of a rock star . . . I was a nervous little kid’) and Wild Horses II tells of a motel stay in which the main topic of conversation is the 1971 song Wild Horses . . . and whether the Rolling Stones or Flying Burrito Brothers sang it better.
Despite a few eerie similarities with a Miranda Lambert album that came out in April — hers was also called Palomino, and also looked to Mick Jagger via a cover of the latter’s Wandering Spirit — this is a coming of age for First Aid Kit, who are now striking a perfect balance between Scandi cool and southern comfort. Abba would be proud.
‘I’d never been in a nightclub until I sang in one,’ says Barbra Streisand of the latest delve into her musical archives. Live At The Bon Soir, recorded in an intimate Greenwich Village supper club in 1962, captures the queen of Broadway when her career was in its infancy. But, even at 20, she was a consummate performer with an extraordinary voice and unbridled star quality.
‘I’d never been in a nightclub until I sang in one,’ says Barbra Streisand of the latest delve into her musical archives
Made just weeks after she signed her first record deal, this was intended as her debut LP. It was shelved in favour of 1963’s The Barbra Streisand Album, but its mixture of theatrical favourites, torch ballads and jazz numbers covers the same ground, while her quick-witted stage patter and ad-libbing skills are an entertaining bonus.
Not all of her pithy asides have aged well. ‘People complain that I don’t sing standards,’ says the star who went on to become Broadway’s greatest interpreter of the classics.
She handles show tunes from Bloomer Girl, Pal Joey and Cole Porter’s Aladdin, but also displays her versatility by taking on the playful calypso Napoleon Is A Pastry and skipping her way around some tricky tempo changes on the torch song Cry Me A River. A slow but stirring Happy Days Are Here Again provides an early hint of her ability to make any song her own.
How you feel about Tom Odell’s latest release will depend on your attitude to sad songs. If you find a diet of constant melancholy hard to stomach, you’d be better off giving Best Day Of My Life a miss. For those buoyed by a soul-baring ballad, though, there’s plenty to admire in these hauntingly beautiful tunes. Odell, 31, won the Critics’ Choice award nine years ago and has since made four major label albums of mainstream piano pop. Jubilee Road (2018) found him going full-on Billy Joel. His breakthrough hit Another Love, streamed a billion times, has become an anthem of hope for Ukraine.
His fifth album takes him somewhere else entirely. Now an independent artist after his deal with Columbia ended, he uses his freedom boldly.
Limiting himself to just vocals and keyboards — plus the odd creak of a piano stool and a flicker of auto-tune — he adopts a less-is-more approach.
He’s been open about his battles with anxiety and these songs, set loosely across a single day, examine his vulnerabilities with real sensitivity.
So raw are his emotions that listeners might find themselves fearing for his wellbeing, though he balances the gloom with instrumental piano interludes and, on Smiling All The Way Back Home, adds a welcome note of optimism as he relishes the buzz of new love.
All albums out now. First Aid Kit start a UK tour on November 28 at O2 Academy, Glasgow (ticketmaster.co.uk).
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