on February 5, 2011
The Civil Wars' chemistry is so provocative, it's almost obscene. Their reputation has preceded this album thanks to their electrifying and magnetic live shows. Now that their album is released, the music is artfully crafted, the lyrics are evocative and dripping with pain, and it's a steal at $7.99 for that kind of experience that you could find anywhere else. When Joy sings passion, her voice is drenched with tears and honey while John Paul's is a perfect complement with just his acoustic guitar. I got a chance to interview the band last year ([..;]) and their chemistry is just as powerful in-person as it is on the album. I'm so excited that they've received all of this critical acclaim as they deserve it. After all the garbage that terrestrial radio puts out, this is a breath of fresh air that should be celebrated! Best wishes to The Civil Wars!
on February 2, 2011
The only disappointing thing about this CD is that it has only 12 songs. You will be wanting more - probably why I've listened over and over again. But do not despair - they are skillful writers and are going to be around for a while. I heard them live Monday night (they're even better live), and they sang some songs they are working on - be on the look out for Oh Henry in the future. Their chemistry combined with their passion for music sets a new, refreshing standard. The beginning harmonies in the title track "Barton Hollow" smacks of a Delta Blues harmonica. You don't have to be a fan of country, bluegrass, or blues to enjoy this music. Listening you will be witness to shear musical genius.
on April 28, 2011
Have you ever watched two birds performing their courting dance in the air? Swooping, diving, soaring acrobatics with perfect timing; intertwining, separating and, suddenly, intertwined once again...John Paul White and Joy Williams voices working their music together, and separately, so remind me of these acrobatics that, at times, I see those birds flying and am separated from my everyday, becoming lost in the sky for a moment with them.
Their songwriting has depth rarely encountered these days. The lyrics are so poetical, evoking scenes which vary from one persons mind to another, as life's experiences dictate, while the music perfectly compliments with a depth of poetry all its own. The music is hard to classify. It crosses over styles, creating a place all its own.
The singing of the pair, with their barely restrained emotion, touches a person deeply. You know that you are hearing something very special when listening to this wonderful combination of music and lyric writing, brought to life with the soaring, gentle, harsh, loving vocals of these two unique and greatly talented individuals. Two, who have happily come together to make what I believe to be a perfect album collection. Few better performances can be found anywhere, in any time period, in any musical genre.
I have been around a long time. I have performed and listened to an ocean of music. Music is my first love. And I draw on this experience to highly recommend this album to you. This is music which has many elements of greatness, yes; but more importantly it is wonderfully listenable. It grows even more so as you continue to explore its depth.
A trip to Memphis Tennessee a few years back continues to pay dividends and can I thank a number of American friends for this recommendation. The Civil Wars are a duo consisting of John Paul White, hailing from Florence, Alabama and Joy Williams, originally from Santa Cruz, CA, but now residing in East Nashville. They have already altruistically shared a free concert album "Live at Eddie's attic" which remains available on their My space site for those of you seeking fine new music and now we have this wonderful debut album "Barton Hollow" to delight our aural senses. The word which best epitomises this record is "passionate". Check out the performance of the swampy folk title track they unveiled on the Jay Leno show and try not to be smitten by its drive and force. There is certainly is a "mixed doubles" Avett Brothers quality to their music but equally the duo evoke the fine pedigree of a Welch and Rawlings with their great singing voices and haunting melodies.
At the heart of "Barton Hollow" is the songwriting and none is finer that the brilliant alt country ballad "Poison and Wine" possibly the finest song I have heard this year and one you should send out a search party to locate. It builds slowly and deliberately and the vocals of White in particular resonate with emotion, building to a lovely climax. Opener "20 years" harks bark to that great forgotten American duo the Swell Season and is a heartbreaking country lament destined to take Nashville by storm. It is song that Emmylou Harris should record immediately. "The girl with the red balloon" has a ancient quality about it which the Fleet Foxes tapped into on their eponymous debut, while the haunting instrumental "Violet Hour" repays repeated plays. Anyone who listens to the beautiful "Falling" where this time Williams emerges as a true star, is destined to emerge with a broken heart, ditto the wistful "To whom it may concern" a rolling acoustic ballad so light it could be lifted by a breeze. All this points to the chemistry between the two singers which must suggest more than a platonic friendship bearing in mind the intensity they whip up on songs like the pure Nashville orientated "Forget me not" which had this reviewer daydreaming of fond memories of the Parsons and Harris classic partnership. A debut this good deserves wider recognition not least in recent years since like minded bands who have ploughed this furrow such as the Everbodyfields, Bowerbirds, Anthony Da Costa and Abby Gardner have not achieved their just desserts. The Civil Wars have been described as the coolest duo since the White Stripes a unfair comparison since they work in very different traditions. That said anyone who listens to the Civil Wars brilliant cover of the Jackson 5's "I want you back" must regret that they are not a public limited company since you will want a share of this action.
on February 1, 2011
My daughter, a musician and song writer, introduced me to The Civil Wars in December. As she gets excited about a lot of new music, I was not prepared to be absolutely blown away! I've been looking forward to this release ever since. So many new acts (old ones too for that matter) are 95% style and 5% substance. No concerns in that regard here. Such immediate affection for new music is unusual for me. Can't wait to see how it 'ages'.
This album has restored my faith in quality music, made by talented artists. It's not often anymore that I get introduced to much new music, except what I may hear on satellite radio. I sort of have a rule that if I hear a song in rotation four or five times that I really like, I buy it - and usually investigate the full album. Such was the case with The Civil Wars (TCW). The title track of this album, "Barton Hollow" (pronounced 'holler') was and still is in regular rotation, and after deciding I liked this song, I dug deeper. I purchased the album for myself and have since given it as gifts.
I don't often write reviews about products of art (music, movies, books) because by nature any such review is wholly subjective. People who like what you like will say your review was helpful, and people who don't like it will say it isn't. It is also difficult to describe in words what a particular music means to you personally, what it is about it that appeals to you or moves you. I will try to say enough to give my five-star review context, and I hope that is helpful in some way.
My musical tastes are at times very broad and eclectic, and at times very narrow and focused. I think that is probably true of many people. If I had to pin myself to a single genre, it would be rock certainly... and probably classic rock more specifically. Part of that is because I 'came of age' when that music was new, and part of it is because the more new music I hear, the more I realize the lost talent and quality of that golden age of rock. So there you have it. I'm one of those grumpy guys who mostly hates new music and feels that there is very little new talent out there, and what little there is is not being offered to us by the recording industry. There, I said it.
I was a little afraid of the genre labels attached to this album: "Folk", "Country".... hmmm. Neither of those are going to get much shelf space in my music collection, and even less play time on my device of choice. But I listened anyway, and what I heard was one of the most amazing albums that I have heard in years! The music in this collection is beautiful in its minimalism approach - primarily just acoustic guitar, some piano, and two outstanding voices that were made to sing together. The harmonies in the vocals are the sort of magic that comes along rarely. TCW sing together as if they have been doing it all their lives, when in fact they have known each other only a few short years. The natural chemistry is fabulous, and cannot be manufactured. This duo is the real thing!
Most of the songs in the collection are down tempo and a bit dark lyrically. This works perfectly for the incredible vocals. There is no competition between the voices and the instruments, no wall of sound in the way of the magical harmonies. This album is as close to perfection as I've ever heard. "Barton Hollow" is to the singer/songwriter genre what "The Dark Side of the Moon" was to progressive rock.
One special track to me is the sole instrumental song on the album "The Violet Hour". One of the best short simple instrumentals I've ever heard. It has a beautiful and haunting melody that is so good, I can play it in my head while listening to other music - it's that strong. The one previous work that this album does remind me of is the Robert Plant / Allison Krause masterpiece of a few years ago. I'm really surprised I've never read or heard any other reviews draw that comparison. If you like the Plant/Krause combination, you will almost certainly love TCW's Barton Hollow. But don't mistake that comparison to imply that there is a 'me too' element. This is a beautifully original and fresh piece of work by an extremely talented duo that will hopefully be around for many years.
on May 27, 2011
You know that feeling you get when you hear a song and instantly think, "Man - I wish I had written this?!" That is what happened to me the moment I heard the title track "Barton Hollow." I bought the single and relived that feeling over and over with each subsequent listen. Then, I bought the album and the entire thing makes me feel that way! The songwriting is outstanding. The lyrics take a page from the folk/country/blues/Americana playbook and really tell some stories. The imagery is vivid, beautiful and heartbreaking. The vocal lines and harmonies are other worldly. At times, it reminds me of the Alison Krauss/Robert Plant dynamic, but with a feel that is entirely unique to these two very gifted artists. Prior to purchasing the album, I listened to an NPR interview with The Civil Wars that revealed how genuine and dedicated these people are to their craft. I also recommend that people check out their live covers on YouTube of "Billie Jean" and "Disarm." I have no doubt that this album will be at the top of my favorites list for a very, very long time. If this doesn't make some Top 10 of 2011 lists, I would be shocked.
on May 26, 2011
I can't believe their voices - stunning! The songs are the most perfectly paired duets I've ever heard, I can't stop listening to this cd. I want to be these two. How lucky they are to have instruments like that! I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart for sharing their talent with the world. That is the best review I can give! I would love to hear them cut loose on more up-tempo songs like Barton Hollow. I hope they do so on their next album - which I will be picking up on the release date!
on March 23, 2011
From the first moment you hear the intertwining voices of Joy Williams and John Paul White, you might think of The Swell Season, She and Him and other male-female duos. But Civil Wars is less a duet than two voices pulled inextricably together as one. Their harmonies are guided by the sort of familial telepathy that usually only blesses siblings like the Stanleys, Louvins, Everlys or Avetts. Listening deeper into the album, the duo suggests Richard & Mimi Fariña (or Holly Golightly and Lawyer Dave) on the album's bluesy title track. The drawn-out wordings can feel conspicuous at times, but the alchemy of their voices is never less than mesmerizing. The intimacy of the duo's vocal tone stands in contrast to the emotional volume of their singing; they use mostly acoustic instrumentation, but conjure a power that feels electric.
White is a little bit country and folk, Williams a little bit pop, and they write songs that are both and neither - rootsy but sweet. They evoke the delicate outlines of romances that could possibly be, relationships that retain the intensity of adolescence, and the hymn-like drama of a troubled marriage in "Poison and Wine." There are small town comings and goings, hopelessness and hoped-for redemption, and the pair ignites (unfounded) rumors of couplehood with their old-timey Western ballad, "Forget Me Not." The digital album download includes two bonus covers, a radically reworked vocal arrangement of the Jackson Five's "I Want You Back," and an emphatic take on Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me to the End of Love" that adds a gypsy-jazz tone. Williams and White push and pull one another with their voices, but the battle is civil and the results enchanting. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
on February 4, 2012
Someone on Youtube wrote that The Civil Wars are "adultery by vocal harmony." That captures the spirit of their appeal. They are the only group I know that has perfected intimacy as performance art. A large part of their appeal is their live performances, which the Internet brings into your home. The great Dorothy Parker wrote, "scratch a lover, find a foe." The songs 'Poison and Wine' and 'Falling' nail this disturbing truth to the church wall, a glimmering crucifix. It's worth mentioning that the song about two star-crossed lovers ('I Got This Friend') is the song that the duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White refer to as their "happy song". If you are looking for sap and pap romance and dance look elsewhere.
In an interview with Relevant Magazine, Joy talks about the transition of her Christian faith from a "victory-mode" to a "challenging and questioning mode". This new attitude is on display not only in the self-conscious naming of their duo as The Civil Wars but in their brash reinterpretations of Leonard Cohen and the Jackson Five. Only Joy Williams would stick a flower in her hair and twitter away in orgasmic self-satisfaction to a song about the Holocaust ('Dance Me to the End of Love'). Their cover of 'I Want You Back' takes a song about childish regrets and elevates it into a devastating critique of emotional abandonment. They embrace contradiction, disassociation, dissatisfaction. C'est la Vie, 'C'est la Mort'.
Christian pop-star and head-banging southern rocker. It's a fantasy that opposites attract. You know this; I know this; they know this. Yet somewhere in the alchemy of their vocal harmonies lead does get turned into gold. Somewhere in this maelstrom of adult angst two perfectly matched voices exist. Have existed for '20 Years'. Now they've found each other. How did this happen. I don't know. It doesn't make much sense this Sensibility they share. It's as if they shouldn't share it but they inescapably do.
Perhaps there is more victory in Barton Hallow than the duo thinks. Not the victory of a swarm of heavenly angels over a host of hell but the victory of hand-to-hand combat in the emotional trenches of 'The Violet Hour'. There is a neurochemistry to battle as well as love. Make love not war. For these two 'Birds of a Feather' this album shrieks one enduring question:
what's the difference?