The Civil Wars The Civil Wars
  • WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 07, 2013

  • Posted by: Austin Knief

In 2011, riding off the high of their Grammy award winning album Barton Hollow, The Civil Wars found themselves knee-deep in success and fighting off rumors of romantic tension between the duo. Two short years later, singers Joy Williams and John Paul White are linked by nothing but the past and a haunting new album that is an account of what could have been. The Civil Wars, the duo's second, and most likely final studio album, could not even be completed with the partnership of Williams and White still intact. After splitting at a performance in London on November 6, 2012, The Civil Wars recording process was far from complete. Until the album was finished in January, the estranged couple would make separate visits to the studio to finish track recording. Considering the beautifully vibrant chemistry that looms on every single one of the 12 tracks, this is an astonishing truth. But focusing more on the album's content, which is far more gothic than their first effort Barton Hollow, the lyrics seem to embody the lost love and emptiness that was perhaps the band's downfall.

The ironically titled The Civil Wars was, upon completion, a difficult sell to major labels. With the splitting of the band still lingering, a tour in support of the album was certainly out of the question. Without the marketing benefits of a tour, the label was going to need to find another way to sell the album. Fortunately, The Civil Wars had already built a sufficient fan base to give their second album success simply through radio play and free streaming. In fact, the duo's turmoil may have possibly earned them more recognition. Like a painting's value increasing after the artist's death, The Civil Wars is a work of art the likes of which we may never hear again. Right off the bat, the album introduces the distant chemistry of Williams and White. And in the aptly titled first track, "The One That Got Away", it is all too easy to imagine that the lyrics are directed towards each other. "I never meant to get us in this deep / I never meant for this to mean a thing." While the direction of these lyrics may remain a mystery, one can clearly see why questions would arise of a romance between the two. However apparent, these rumors have continuously been declined and the romantic chemistry pushed off as artifice. The music video for "The One That Got Away" very well captures the distance accumulating between Williams and White.



Despite the dark and intense album motif, the album has its cheerful moments. "From This Valley" exhibits more contemporary country and up-tempo. An a cappella duet mid-song is quite possibly one of the most lifting moments on The Civil Wars. And with the righteous and faithful lyrics, Joy Williams' former work with Christian music seeps out. John Paul White noted in an interview that his playing of the electric guitar on the new album was "refreshing" and kept things "coherent." The Civil Wars' second album is indeed a slight departure from the quiet acoustics of Barton Hollow. Most notably on "I Had Me A Girl", the second track on the album. The track is introduced with a distorted and edgy guitar riff, and quickly breaks into a bluesy alt-country ballad that gets White and Williams trading off bellowing verses. The two sing of lovers who "taught them to pray," but are subsequently vanished "like cigarette smoke." The track is the grittiest on the album, and has more of an alternative appeal to it that the band had barely sunk their teeth into.

Interestingly enough the band even manages to transform alternative into folk. The Civil Wars' cover of the Smashing Pumpkins "Disarm" began quaintly as an on-stage staple. But the incredible take on a beloved song was too good to pass up for the album. White begins, calmly singing Billy Corgan's sinister lyrics that fit his own band's style so perfectly. Williams eventually chimes in, creating a haunting duet that gradually becomes more and more invigorating. The rendition is so impressively original that it may take even the biggest Smashing Pumpkins fans a few moments to recognize. And once again, the lyrics perfectly embody the real-life emotions and turmoil present between the two singers. The final track of The Civil Wars, and in all probability the final track from The Civil Wars as a band, is "D'arline". This particular song is the first and only recording in existence and was captured merely by a single iPhone. The sorrowful theme is continued into "D'arline", and it's simple recording simultaneously shows the band's one-take talent as well as their appreciation for imperfection. If you listen closely to the final third of the song, you can hear the cawing of crows in the background; a symbolic theme to the end of an era.

The Civil Wars is a collection of anguished and somber songs literally shrouded in black smoke (notice the album cover). While the band may be no more, they have left fans of folk-rock and alt-country with something to reminisce upon. Barring a make-up and reunion, The Civil Wars may end up being the one that got away.

The Civil Wars is out now. Get your copy here.



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