Review: The Civil Wars – ‘Barton Hollow’

Originally published for IAreYeti.

Americana may not be a genre that translates well in to UK culture, but when an immensely talented band comes along, the genre of music becomes irrelevant. Having met a few years ago at a song-writing master class in Nashville, Tennessee, singer-songwriters, Joy Williams and John Paul White, developed an instant musical connection and went on to form The Civil Wars.

When listening to their debut album, ‘Barton Hollow’, it’s difficult to imagine the pair performing separately; neither stands out above the other, as their voices compliment each other so beautifully, it would feel almost wrong to hear them apart. There is something about the connection between the two that comes across so vividly on their debut, producing one of the most captivating and touching albums to come from an American act in a very long time.

The duo themselves have said that their band is best summed up on their song ‘Poison & Wine’: a powerful ballad about the difficulties of being in a committed relationship. Beginning with a haunting blend of quite simple guitar and piano chords, while White and Williams sing line after line respectively, the song starts to build as the pair unite to sing “I don’t love you but I always will”. It is one of the most poignant songs on the album and gives you an interesting insight in to the relationship between White and Williams.

Eponymous track, ‘Barton Hollow’, is the only really upbeat track on the album but it does its job brilliantly. The song resembles a typical ‘deep-South’ piece of American country music, heavily influenced by White’s musical roots. It is probably the heaviest moment on the album but still manages to keep in tone with the rest of the album and is yet another example of how well the pair work together. It is the moments when they sing together in crescendo that really have the goose bumps affect, during the bellowing chants of “oh” and while repeating the lyrics: “Keep walking / And running / And running for miles”.

Considering the short time frame that White and Williams have known each other, it is incredible to imagine just what these two will be capable of as they continue to work together and develop their sound. For two incredibly talented singer-songwriters in their own right, there is undoubtedly a great deal of tension and stubbornness between them, when it comes to writing songs. However, none of this comes across on ‘Barton Hollow’, where their partnership comes across as composed and harmonious; making for one of the most beautiful sounding debuts of the year so far.

Overall Rating: 4/5

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