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February 16, 2011
The imagery of the Civil War is not a positive picture. The illustrations of man versus man, Union versus Confederates and rifle-muskets come to mind. Now the Civil War has a new image.
Practically coming out of nowhere and suddenly finding themselves explode on the charts with the no.1 spot on iTunes with their debut album “Barton Hollow,” The Civil Wars have made a small statement.
Putting a civil tastefulness on the ups and downs of life and relationships, the harmonies of Joy Williams and John Paul White create a beautiful, picturesque image in their songs. The scarcity of instruments used allows their voices to illuminate and highlight the lyrics.
Typically only using piano and acoustic guitar, with the occasional help of some stringed instruments, the duo allow the songs to seem enchanting in a way that lures you into a magical world.
Comparable to The Swell Season duo from the movie “Once” or the harmonies of Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, they carefully balance and intertwine the sound of folk, country and Americana. With this, they abandon the mainstream country sound with an authentic creation meant to be discovered.
Their most recognizable tune “Poison and Wine” appeared on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, which attracted some early attention to the duo. The song takes on more of an effect of an anthem with a fierce message of the disparaging of love, rather than a light and fun melody. The majority of the album consists of a light and flavorful melody of ranging emotions.
Although lyrical geniuses and musically talented, after several songs it can be difficult to pay attention due to the unconventional lack of ‘hooks.’ This is not just an album to listen to; it is nearly required to hear every lyric in order to not get lost in the sound.
However, the subtlety of the instruments does not swallow the harmonies and voices telling the story. The songwriter duo seems to write from that of a country and folk perspective, where storytelling is the norm rather than the repetition of the musical hook until the song finally dies out.
The album title track, “Barton Hollow,” sets itself apart from the rest of the acoustic album with its sound of a harder tale of a dead-man-walking. The harmonies are sharper, the guitar rhythm is choppier and the lyrics are fiercer.
Lyrically, the song has a dangerous mystery accompanied with the unforgivable words expressed like the line, “won’t do me no good washin’ in the river, can’t no preacher man save my soul.” The exploration of emotions is evident throughout every song and every line.
The Civil Wars use their raw and unequivocal talent to find that line and push it until all is left out on the table.
With a name like The Civil Wars, the music has to transgress into a tug-of-war of sentiments and ill-slated imageries. But they make it simple. It is a picture of real life and real emotions. The pureness of their talent transcends all doubt, and “Barton Hollow” is a collection of what makes it all true.
“Barton Hollow” is a solid album purchase for a low price. There are 14 songs on the album at only 10 dollars. This band is one to watch and hopefully one day will soar to the top of the charts with their unprecedented talent. The set of songs are well worth the price to receive inspiration they can provide.
The Civil Wars have something special about them, and with much anticipation, they will grow into their own success and change the music scene today, and in the days ahead.