When folk-rock duo The Civil Wars burst onto the scene with their debut album in 2011, Barton Hollow, they were unstoppable, and seemingly inseparable.
A chance meeting at a Nashville songwriting workshop saw the unlikely pairing of Christian pop singer Joy Williams and alternative singer-songwriter John Paul White. Coming together as The Civil Wars, the duo have captivated listeners and won two Grammys with their intuitive harmonies, heart-rending lyrics, and emotional veracity.
Then in November 2012, the band abruptly cancelled their tour citing “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition”; and they have not performed together since. It was in the midst of this tumultuous climate that they recorded The Civil Wars.
This tension is evident in this darker, visceral record. From the opening line of The One That Got Away, a theme of relational dysfunction and discord is established: “I never meant to get us this deep, I never meant for this to mean a thing.”
I Had Me A Girl continues the brooding tone, with the call-response structure of the verses heightening the sense of strife between the two singers. This track also emphasises the key differences between the duo’s acoustic, vocally-driven debut and their latest offering, with heavier production and the liberal use of distortion.
There are some sweeter moments in the album, reminiscent of their earlier work. In Dust to Dust, the pair almost whisper their words of comfort and camaraderie for the lonely: “You’re like a mirror reflecting me … You’ve been lonely too long, We’ve been lonely too long.”
Further reprieve can be found in From This Valley, a cheery spiritual with a beautiful a cappella arrangement showcasing the pair’s soaring vocals and perfectly intertwined harmonies. Known for their unique covers, The Civil Wars have also included a mellow rendition of Etta James’, Tell Mama, and a haunting interpretation of The Smashing Pumpkins’, Disarm.
The album concludes with a raw and unpolished iPhone recording of D’Arline, a bittersweet lament of love and loss. But the lyrics almost seem to reflect the sentiment surrounding the duo’s break, a hope that they would mend bridges and continue creating their achingly beautiful music: “I could get over you, But please don’t ask me to, Just so you know, You’ll always be the only one”.
The Civil Wars is available now on iTunes.