“I wish I had chosen to write songs about anything else”, said Grace Petrie on 18th April this year. Leicester’s favourite lefty folk-protest daughter has fallen victim to the pace of politics before, her previous album Whatever’s Left having had its relevance overturned mere months after its release by the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. Two years on, finishing up a new 14-track effort with a refreshed band lineup only to see a snap General Election called must’ve been quite the kick in the teeth.
Petrie needn’t have worried. Her songwriting has always been incisive enough to endure, and her trademark split of protest anthems and love songs serves her well on Heart First Aid Kit. It’s an album with plenty of fight in it – opener Make America Hate Again is a fiery and uncompromising takedown of you-know-who, and God Save the Hungry lands its shots at an uncaring establishment with equal parts eloquence and precision blunt force. But the record’s unabashed sensitive side holds just as much brilliance, the bouncy Coldwaterproofjacket contrasting beautifully with wistful pieces like On the Road to BC and the genuinely heartbreaking Done Deal. The currents of the political world may move fast, but they’re not enough to wash away the heart and passion that permeates every corner of Heart First Aid Kit.
The album’s musicianship is a typically stripped-back delight, too. Petrie’s self-deprecation on finally-recorded live staple Nobody Knows That I’m a Fraud belies a joyously creative collection of guitar work, and the mix of solo and band pieces gives former-bassist-turned-drummer Caitlin Field room to settle in to her new role comfortably. The addition of accomplished solo artist Siobhan Mazzei on bass brings fresh energy too – it’d be harsh on the previous lineup to say it’s better, but it’s new, invigorating, and overwhelmingly positive behind Grace’s superb song-crafting.
Perhaps the album’s greatest strength, though, is the almost-unquantifiable sense of camaraderie one comes away with at the end. Through the shout-backs at power and the laments to lost loves, the sincerity of every word being sung grants a lasting relevance and accessibility to the songs that will far outlive the relevance of their subject matter (not that heartbreak or conservative callousness ever go out of style). It’s a good catch-up chat at a gig. It’s a collection of well-written statuses from that one Facebook friend who isn’t an insufferable colleague or racist relative. From the dystopian bite of the opener through to its optimistic mirror-image closer You Build a Wall, the true joy of Heart First Aid Kit is getting to hang out with Grace and the band for an hour, righting the world’s every personal and political wrong, and having a cracking sing-song in the process.
Heart First Aid Kit is available from Grace Petrie’s Bandcamp now.