The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars
August 6th 2013
Recommended if you like: Ingird Michaelson, Sleeping At Last, The Lumineers
Most people are a little disappointed when a band releases a self-titled album. The title of an album often provides an opportunity for the artist to give some added subtext, what best encapsulates the essence of what the album is really about. On the surface, some may see The Civil Wars’ new release as a self-titled album. At the core of it, however, this album title could not be more appropriate.
No one expected the immense amount of success The Civil Wars received with the release of their debut album Barton Hollow in early 2011. Except for maybe Charlie Peacock, way back in January 2010. Nevertheless, the simplistic music that consists almost exclusively of John Paul White’s guitar, Joy Williams’ piano, and their vocals makes for some of the most heart wrenching music your ears have ever had the luxury of hearing. In a matter of months, the duo exploded; on their first national tour they were playing 500 capacity venues, and in January of 2012 they sold out the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. Barton Hollow went on to make countless “Best of 2011” lists as well as winning two Grammy Awards for Best Folk Album and Best Country Duo/Group Performance.
All of this success came at a price, however. In November 2012, the duo announced they would be taking a hiatus due to “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition.” Mourning quickly ensued as droves of fans worried that The Civil Wars were finished forever. Yet despite all the uncertainty of the future of the band, a new single was released and hopes were once again raised that all was well with Williams and White.
In an interview by the Associated Press, we hear from Joy Williams that she and John Paul are not speaking and that producer Charlie Peacock spoke loosely on his behalf for the interview. With all of this in mind, the songs provide a deeper meaning into the songwriting and singing that came together for this new album.
You can feel a sense of regret and hurt in Williams’ voice that sets the tone for the entire record when she opens with the lyrics, “I never meant to get us in this deep, I never meant for this to mean a thing. I wish you were the one, wish you were the one that got away.” The same intensity is felt in the lyrics of “Same Old Same Old” as the duo harmoniously sings, “I wanna miss this, I want a heartache. I wanna run away, but I won’t. ‘Do I love you? Oh, I do. And I’m going to ‘til I’m gone. But if you think that I can stay in this same old, same old, well, I don’t. Oh I don’t wanna fight, but I’ll fight with you, If I have to.”
From a musical standpoint, you will definitely notice the additional instrumentation such as drums, electric guitar, mandolin, and even some sampled beats. In the stand out song “Dust to Dust,” the sampled drums and bass line help to drive the song and seem to bring a new spark to the band’s sound. The electric guitar in “I Had Me A Girl” and “Oh Henry” provide a strong backbone to Williams and Jones’ otherwise bare vocals.
While the album is loaded with strong songs like “The One That Got Away,” “From This Valley,” and “Tell Mama,” the two final songs seem to bring out a different tone. “Sacred Heart” is sung entirely in French, and although it is a gorgeous song, its joyous sound seems to stick out on a record filled with dark and heartbreaking songs. “D’Arline” feels like a bit of an afterthought thrown on last minute with its production feeling a little off and the guitar playing is fairly distracting.
At the end of the day, it’s hard to know whether this album will be given the opportunity to be performed live, or if there will ever be a follow up. Williams sums up her feelings on the state of the duo quite well as she says in her interview, “What I’ve noticed is people may be curious about it, but once they listen to it, they are hooked. … It’s so honest and it’s so rich and, not to toot my own horn, I’m just really proud of what we created together. And we created it together — we just happened to be in a bit of a civil war ourselves.”