LABEL: SENSIBILITY MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 2, 2010
For once I’m not commenting about ‘the hype’, I’m part of those ‘weird groupies’ creating it. But honestly, these guys deserve their informal title of “The Best of What’s Next”. I am not the natural fan of any Americana/folk grouping; I just do not listen to the stuff. But I’m an utter devotee for the perfectly matched harmonies of Joy Williams and John Paul White. An absolute convert to their match-made-in-heaven.
In a nutshell, it all starts with a little songwriters’ camp in Nashville (where else?), which led to a little EP (Poison and Wine – buy it now!), which all amalgamated into the two parties involved deciding to focus more on their work together than on their separate solo careers… which will eventually lead to the global release and worldwide success of this, their debut full length album “Barton Hollow”.
Californian-born Williams meets Alabama-native White in a way that sounds nothing like either of their solo projects and everything like they should have been together from the beginning. If I were going to make an arbitrary comparison, The Civil Wars really remind me of the creative talent of Sixpence None The Richer, and that is a big deal. The opening track, “20 Years” is the beginning of an ethereal relationship between you and them.
The music itself is slow-burning, built up on a foundation of strums and keys upon which the crowning vocals rest. The opening notes of the title track say it all. Voices soar, intermingle, hang and then fade … only to begin once more. Even without the vocals, the music is still soul-stirring. One of my favourite tracks is the instrumental “The Violet Hour”; it is nice to follow where the sound meanders.
The songs do tend to wander, taking you this way and that, both musically and lyrically. If you like simple, straight-forward imagery, with a lot of clear spiritual references, Barton Hollow is probably not going to be your cup of tea. Open to interpretation, there is often no explicit message to grasp. The chorus of “Poison & Wine” repeats the line “Oh I don’t love you but I always will”. One has to look past what appear to be glaring contradictions to enjoy and appreciate the album. That is not to suggest in any way that the lyrics are not good, but that multiple listens are needed to really discover the depth of feeling behind the words.
However, love seems to be the overarching theme. Several songs including “Forget Me Not”, “Girl With a Red Balloon” and “I’ve Got This Friend” capture different, contrasting snapshots of what love is, what love does. It is a clever approach to theme that has been covered before. The closing track “Dance Me To The End Of Love” is hauntingly beautiful, seeping with understated passion and feeling.
Even as I try to create hype, I must acknowledge that The Civil Wars will not be to everyone’s liking. Folk music is not a widely popular genre. The music has to grow on you, it works more subtly – it is not immediately attention-grabbing. Nevertheless, for those of you with a more refined palette and those willing to experiment with something new, take a chance with Barton Hollow… you’ll not hear anything like it elsewhere.