The Civil Wars: Barton Hollow (Sony)

The Civil Wars: Billie Jean
The Civil Wars: Barton Hollow (Sony)

Even the most cursory listen to this alt.folk duo (who err to the traditional side also) and you can hear why they picked up two Grammies (best folk and best country duo/group performance). They hit the genre right down the middle, even to the point of mentioning "praying for redemption" in the opener.

So, old time religion, crystalline vocals from her (Joy Williams originally from California) and dark empathy from him (John Paul White from Alabama), songs about love and longing and death, understated arrangements . . .

What's not to like?

Well, that sometimes it feels a little obvious in its intimacy. And that the Americana tropes are being ticked off (the preacher, the girl in the calico dress, trains and blood on the tracks etc).

That said, there really is nothing to dislike in their cautious and engrossing delivery, the scrape of cello, the neo-folk quality which pokes through, the pairing of holy angel and woodsman in their style . . .

And not only do they dress the part, but are also hip'n'smart enough to offer bonus tracks in their style which are covers, including Michael Jackson's Billie Jean and Leonard Cohen's Dance Me to the End of Love.

A wink. 

In a favourable notice in the Guardian, the reviewer also said their roots were in "high class AOR", an aside which nails it for me.

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Your Comments

Jamie Macphail - May 6, 2012

Yes, The Guardian comment, and your own, ring very true! I resisted buying this, it seemed a bit too well marketed or something, but I relented, and enjoyed it hugely on the first couple of listenings, but unlike the great stuff, it seems to loose it's depth the more I listened! Maybe there's a new genre of Mainstream Americana ...

Jenny Elliott - May 7, 2012

Damn... coz I've just really enjoyed that sample - I guess it means I'm going to have to really really enjoy the first couple of listenings ay...

Blair Morgan - May 9, 2012

I had never heard of them and saw them on a "KCRW Morning Become Eclectic " video podcast last year. I was convinced they were a couple however when they were interviewed halfway through it was stated they weren't and that they had met at a songwriting clinic. That seemed to alter what I thought of them from that point and it all seemed to suggest a contrived nature to all of this and this seems reinforced by the comments thus far...

Chris - May 12, 2012

Well, I read some reviews in Mojo & Uncut, and some of the feedback was along the lines of your review, and the Guardian comments, but the fact is I just enjoy listening to the album. It's easy to get caught up in the arguments about authenticity etc, and I'll happily admit to trashing music that seems "manufactured", but the harmonies in particular on this album just work!


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