Another good reason I didn’t puke when I saw Jack White in the Third Man Records parking lot in Nashville, TN (aside from maintaining my self-image as super-cool under pressure) is that some very precious cargo was riding in the black shopping bag at my side. Nestled next to a copy of Drive-By Truckers’ Live at Third Man was First Aid Kit’s entry in the label’s Blue Series. I’ll be frank; I knew I was leaving with this 7-inch record the moment I saw it, regardless of which songs were on there. My love for First Aid Kit has grown by leaps and bounds since I first professed it in February, and whatever they’re sellin’… I’m buyin’.
What I didn’t know was that I’d share an eerie connection with the cover song that graces the record’s A-side.
A few weeks back, I posted about how a famous social psychology experiment relates to my feelings about negative record reviews. Long story short, I don’t like reviewers speaking in absolutes about a piece of music’s shortcomings, because one man’s musical trash is another’s treasure, and I enjoy feeling like I have a choice about which is which. What I didn’t mention is that the experiment was originally designed to explore something much more serious: the psychology behind Nazi soldiers’ willingness to follow orders during World War II. Heavy stuff. And, strangely, it’s the same heavy subject matter you’ll find in “Universal Soldier,” the 1960’s folk tune that leads off First Aid Kit’s Third Man release. In fact, the song makes the exact same argument that Stanley Milgram’s experiment successfully proved — that individuals ultimately have the power to decide whether or not to follow orders.
Despite the dark themes conveyed by the lyrics, the Swedish duo’s cover is gorgeous, just vocals laced with fiddle and acoustic guitar, with a distant drum ringing in the song’s conclusion. And it’s impossible for me to ignore how beautifully the sisters’ voices pair with countrified instrumentation (Quick side note — when spell check didn’t underline “countrified,” I googled it and can report, with no small degree of surprise, that it’s really a word), whether it’s the fiddle in “Universal Soldier,” the shufflin’ drums from “I Found A Way” or the pedal steel in my reigning favorite song of 2012, “Emmylou.” The clarity of their delivery and the sweetness of these elements are a powerful combination, one they dive into with both feet on the record’s B-side, a take on blues standard “It Hurts Me Too.” I can’t wait to find out if they continue down this path in the future, which is just a diplomatic way of saying “I want a full-blown country album and I want it nooooooow.” Have a listen to both sides of my narrowly puke-free record below, and click here to buy both on iTunes.