The Civil Wars have not really been a band too long. I like saying that, as if I were responsible for find them or something. Unfortunately for me, they have been around long enough to put out a couple small releases and this full album. The Civil Wars is composed of just one male (John Paul White) and one female (Joy Williams). White and Williams come together to form what will probably only become a greater musical force in 2011. White and Williams have that success story already working. They have already been the featured song on an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy”, been declared the best of what’s next by “Paste Magazine”, and had their album hit Itunes #1 the week it was released. So I suppose I’m once again not really reviewing anything entirely underground, but it is one of those cd’s that has spent a lot of time getting play on my Ipod.
The Civil Wars do one thing really really well, and that is sing. I say that because there really isn’t a whole lot of musical backing on this record. Most of the time there is a single guitar playing with most of the songs. There are a few other instruments that find their way into the mix on some songs; however, most of the record revolves around White and Williams beautiful singing. This is of course in stark contrast to another guy/girl duo fronted by another famous man with the last name White. Despite these two bearing some resemblance; here, really neither singer is the driving force behind the band. Some songs feature a female lead more and vice versa. However, one thing they do really well is harmonize and complement each other. Half the time you don’t even realize there is very little music playing with the album.
Most of the songs have a very low-key feel to them. I didn’t immediately take to this album for that reason. They are pretty much always kept at a very slow pace. They tend to get a little louder when they are singing, but each song really keeps the same pace throughout. At first I thought some of these songs would have a bit more of a Mumford and Sons feel to them. On their album a lot of songs start slow, and then they get a lot quicker and louder as they go along. But here they keep fairly low-key throughout the entirety of the song. The one really big blatant exception to the rule is the title song for this album, “Barton Hollow”, has a very obvious faster and more upbeat feel to it.
A lot of the songs on the album do seem to deal with the topic of love. “Poison and Wine” more deals with sort of unrequited love. Both singers harmonize the line, “I don’t love you, but I always will”. “C’est la Mort” seems to be sung by a lover dealing with the death of a loved one. They both continually sing the line “don’t go without me”. So perhaps not all of the love songs are really positive love songs, but love songs none the less. “The Violet Hour” is a well placed and well-played instrumental song. I know ironic for an album I already said is not very heavy on the instruments. Once again the title song really sticks out here. “Barton Hollow” revolves more around a man on the run from the law. Perhaps this helps to explain why it is definitely the most upbeat song on the album.
With the rise of bands like Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers, and even The Raconteurs, it’s easy to see how this band would be making it big right now. Folk music is definitely finding a resurgence in American popular music right now. The Civil Wars have gotten together to construct a beautiful and sometimes haunting album. Don’t put this album on if you are looking for something to rock out to; however, if you need something more low-key and subtle, this is a great album to pick up.
Teacher Grade: A