26/12/13 – The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow – 2011

The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow - Cover Art - 2011

Magic in Americana is like magic in blues, it transcends the tradition of the chords and the perceived obviousness of the lyric. Everyday relationships, love and loss might not be your poison when it comes to stimulating music, but in the relationship of Joy Williams and John Paul White, magic is present in many forms. First of all their close vocal harmonies are so close that at times it sounds like these dulcet tones are coming out of one person with the unique skill of a simultaneous male and female voice. That is the first miracle. The second is their bitter sweet lyrics that talk of the truth of love and its pain. Lastly the sparse and sensitive production finds acres of space in the songs not blurring the picture at all, leaving you with the raw emotion of each song expressed through the voices.

The vocal magic on this record is what makes it such a stunning debut. On C’est La Mort you can recognise that same natural blend that the Everly Brothers had in their classic songs. Joy Williams does have a beautiful voice and has made, wait for it, a slew of Christian albums since she was 17 years old – White released a solo album, The Long Goodbye in 2008. But together magic found them as a harmony duo.

Poison and Wine is one of the absolute stand out tracks on the album that deals with a tragic love/hate relationship beautifully sung, exquisite harmonies and a soft intensity in the production. It’s an absolute classic that spills out from the genre into rock and pop (U2 could cover this song easily), without losing any of its genre’s authenticity. Incidentally the song is co written with super country producer and songwriter Chris Lindsey.

This is the lyric:

You only know what I want you to
I know everything you don’t want me to
Your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine
You think your dreams are the same as mine

Ooh, I don’t love you but I always will
Ooh, I don’t love you but I always will
I don’t love you but I always will
I always will

I wish you’d hold me when I turn my back
The less I give, the more I get back
Ooh, your hands can heal, your hands can bruise
I don’t have a choice but I still choose you

Ooh, I don’t love you but I always will
Ooh, I don’t love you but I always will
I don’t love you but I always will
Ooh, I don’t love you but I always will

I don’t love you but I always will
I don’t love you but I always will
I don’t love you but I always will
I always will, I always will, I always will
I always will, I always will

Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing, BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC

The Civil Wars’ harmonies sends shivers down my spine. Listen to what they do with Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, Live, with just their voices and one acoustic guitar. Other unexpected extra tracks here are the Jackson Five’s 1969 released and 1970 Number 1 hit, I Want You Back, Leonard Cohen’s, Dance Me To The End Of Love from Various Positions 1984, a melancholic You Are My Sunshine, originally written in 1939 and recorded by countless artists in the last 75 years and poignantly executed here.

They may be irresistible, moving, mesmerising, magical, sensitive, beautiful and a thesaurus full of superlatives, but just when it seemed that the world was at their feet and with their self-titled second album debuting at Number 1 on various different charts around the world, the band announced that they had a problem and are currently on hiatus citing – “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition”.




The spotify version of the album has additional tracks that weren’t on the original CD.