In my younger days, I was a big fan of Emmylou Harris. A country/folk singer with a down-to-earth performing style, she has a unique voice that can tell a powerful story through songs she writes or interprets. My sister and I saw her perform at an outdoor venue in Toronto many years ago and left as even bigger fans. Early in Harris’ career, she was mentored by Gram Parsons (who was briefly with the Byrds), singing and touring with him. “We had elements of being a couple through a musical relationship that became very intense,” Harris said to The Independent. Tragically, Parsons died of an overdose in 1973 at the age of 26.
Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash were another great country duo, with wide-ranging popularity. I grew up listening to their music and watching them on The Johnny Cash Show. Their duets were full of lighthearted banter and left no doubt as to the loving relationship between them.
A few years ago, I heard a Swedish folk duo called First Aid Kit on CBC Radio. I now have two of their albums in my listening rotation, The Lion’s Roar and Stay Gold. As sisters, Klara and Johanna Söderberg have voices that blend together perfectly through their harmonies, and their songwriting talent is growing. The Söderbergs, in spite of their parents being more into punk rock, discovered country/folk music and began singing and writing their own songs. In 2007, at the ripe old ages of 14 and 16, respectively, the two girls began uploading songs to MySpace. After sending a demo of their song “Tangerine” to Swedish radio, requests to perform came in. Since they were still in school, though, they could only perform on weekends. They were fortunate to make a contact through a school friend of their brother and very soon secured a record contract. They have appeared numerous times on TV, including appearances on The Graham Norton Show and The Late Show with David Letterman. A new album is due out in 2017.
What originally drew me to the music of First Aid Kit was their song “Emmylou”, which pays tribute to the two duos mentioned above. It is a wistful song about (in their words) “the joy and the magic of singing together with someone that you love”:
I’ll be your Emmylou and I’ll be your June
If you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny too
No, I’m not asking much of you
Just sing little darling, sing with me
I came across this wonderful video of First Aid Kit singing their song “Emmylou” to Emmylou Harris herself (along with the king of Sweden) at the 2015 Polar Music Prize ceremony. I can only imagine what it would be like to sing to your idol, the song that you wrote for her. Emmylou Harris’ reaction is so moving, as she listens to these young women who were inspired by her music, sing about her and her lost singing partner. Take a look.