Release Date: Aug 6, 2013
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Folk, Americana, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
The Civil Wars’ multifaceted sophomore effort again provides the delicate balance found in the band’s oxymoronic moniker. There’s a tumultuous contention found in bold lyrics, juxtaposed against tender music of heartache and longing. The pitch-perfect duo has included full instrumentation here, rather than only its signature guitar, channeling a new, focused direction.
It’d be a shame if this album disappeared in the shadow of its own backstory. Even at that risk (and in the confidence that the album can carry itself), the story’s worth repeating, even only to get it out of the way. The Civil Wars fortuitously and quickly came together a few years ago, and their debut album, Barton Hollow, expressed a dark loveliness in its excellent Americana.
Last autumn, the Grammy-winning Nashville-based duo of John Paul White and Joy Williams pulled all but the London show of their UK tour, citing “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition”. A cynic might suggest it was a PR masterstroke to add further fictional texture to the spousal heartbreak Americana (they’re married, though not to each other) that permeated their 2011 debut Barton Hollow. Whatever the reason for the quick reconciliation of supposedly irreconcilable circumstances (enigmatic statements on their official website offer no real clues) The Civil Wars return with more woeful dispatches from the frontline of fractious relationships.
Pressure makes diamonds—or coal dust. For The Civil Wars, the triple Grammy-winners whose stark acoustica shook pop music, it created both. Amongst their partnership’s wreckage, their sophomore album lands, shards of broken relationships, even more extreme folk filigrees and strong strumming to mark the path to implosion. When Barton Hollow announced a new day for post-modern Americana, with a broader sweep, a starker sort of anguish, Joy Williams and John Paul White seemed poised at the peak of a dank Appalachian gothiness that balanced the Carter Family and Evanescence, while opening the door for the Mumford & Sons/Lumineers’ folk-roots revolution.
t's unavoidable that the current separation of Joy Williams and John Paul White (the pair known as the Civil Wars since 2008) will dominate the storyline for their second full-length. It's unfortunate, really, since without any of that baggage, The Civil Wars stands as a powerful and haunting collection that exemplifies Nashville's current fixation with slickly updating traditional themes. Although this is territory Buddy and Julie Miller have been mining for some time, the passion that Williams exudes in every line she sings is the duo's main attraction.
Since Grammy Award-winning folk duo the Civil Wars canceled their European tour and announced a hiatus, the Internet has been awash with rumors of breakups, affairs, and record-label marketing ploys. Joy Williams and John Paul White are, by Williams's own account, no longer speaking. It's the stuff of delicious melodrama, and their new self-titled album productively harnesses the opacity of the pair's partnership.
There’s no way to discuss The Civil Wars without discussing the not-so-civil fissure of the same-named duo. Though cynics and conspiracy theorists cling to claims of PR ploys, the reality is that no artists would go so far as to cancel a tour and even promise travel reimbursements to put-upon fans unless they had a really, really compelling reason. Not being able to share the same breathing space, much less perform together, apparently did it for Joy Williams and John Paul White.
The cover art to The Civil Wars’ self-titled sophomore album depicts a vast, billowing plume of black smoke, suggestive, perhaps, of a smoldering relationship that eventually ignited and left some unpleasant fallout. Right now, despite this release, the vehicle of singer-songwriters John Paul White and Joy Williams, The Civil Wars, is no more. The record was put together late in 2012, seemingly just as the duo called time midway through a European tour, citing “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition” as reasons for the “hiatus.” That said, the music doesn’t show signs of suffering from this creative fission; the record is as compelling as its Grammy-winning predecessor, 2011’s Barton Hollow.
Like any union that carries some measure of professional convenience, the Civil Wars encountered difficulties as they began to mature. Unlike other groups whose history extended to a professional gathering of songwriters and singers, the duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White were blessed with considerable immediate success: their 2011 debut climbed its way into the U.S. Top 10, going gold and winning two Grammys along the way.
The Civil Wars' sophomore album comes as the duo—John Paul White and Joy Williams—remains on indefinite hiatus due to "internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition." It's a shame too, because The Civil Wars is much better than the pair's 2011 debut, Barton Hollow. Whereas the debut evidenced White and Williams' exquisite knack for singing together, the set was somewhat heavy on ballads that sounded like they were made to soundtrack television dramas. The Civil Wars corrects this both in the song selection and in the way the compositions are delivered.
Taylor Swift disses exes with singalong choruses, Rihanna duets with her abusive beau, but no pop act makes outsize romantic dysfunction sound as extravagantly pretty as the Civil Wars, the folk-pop-country-rock duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White. Darker and more intense than their Grammy-winning debut, their second LP solidifies a drama-heavy brand identity reflected in their band name. And that identity apparently extends to their personal lives, too – the pair say they were never a romantic item, but the band is on hiatus due to "internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition." At last check, they weren't even on speaking terms.
Rarely has an album been so appropriately titled, even if the decision to go down the rather unimaginative eponymous route might well have something to do with the fact that The Civil Wars have ceased to be a functioning band. Last November’s dramatic statement blaming the cancellation of their tour on “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition” certainly added a previously-hidden edge to the duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White, who up to that point couldn’t have hoped for a better journey. From the humble beginnings of a freely downloaded live album the band took in the soundtrack of Grey’s Anatomy, Jay Leno, a Top 10 debut album, a Grammy award and two features on the blockbuster The Hunger Games: Songs From District 12 And Beyond album – one of which was a collaboration with Taylor Swift, probably the biggest musical star on the planet right now.
The Alabaman half of roots duo the Civil Wars, John Paul White, could well be the co-inventor of a new musical genre: the gothic-folk power ballad. His Twitter account, however, was mainly testament to his love of IPAs and baseball before it abruptly dried up last November. White's final tweet was an explanation, of sorts, linking to an announcement cancelling the remainder of the Grammy winners' European tour.
In retrospect, choosing to call a band The Civil Wars might have been a mistake, as in this case it’s become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even so, few would have anticipated the duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White dissolving into internal strife quite so abruptly - riding a crest of unanticipated but richly deserved success for the rootsy country/folk of their debut, Barton Hollow, and amid work on its follow up the duo cancelled all of their remaining dates and called an indefinite hiatus, citing 'internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition'. Eight months on and nothing has been resolved - Williams and White still aren’t speaking.
As band names go, the one chosen by Joy Williams and John Paul White has turned out to be pretty prophetic. Halfway through recording this follow-up to ‘Barton Hollow’, their 2011 winner of two Grammy Awards, the duo, citing “internal discord and irreconcilable differences”, went on indefinite hiatus. They finished the record, though, using their antipathy as a muse.
As the Civil Wars, Joy Williams and John Paul White share an easy charm that has won over audiences in a big way. Often spare and rooted in folk and country, their music is the kind of Americana elixir that goes down awfully smooth. So smooth that Adele took them on the road a few years ago, and Taylor Swift recorded a duet with them. They were a hit with both artists’ fans, too.
After the Civil Wars broke out with their 2011 debut, Joy Williams and John Paul White repeatedly insisted that the lovelorn lyrics on "Barton Hollow" weren't about them. Each was happily married to another person, they said; the intense romantic bond they conjured onstage was strictly an artistic creation, one that led to more than a half-million album sales, two Grammy Awards and superstar fans such as Adele and Taylor Swift, who recruited the folk-rock duo for a hit collaboration on the "Hunger Games" soundtrack. Despite (or because of) all that success, the Civil Wars began to unravel.
The Civil Wars (Sensibility Music/Columbia) Barton Hollow, the Civil Wars' 2011 debut, garnered such unexpected success that the follow-up arrives with all kinds of drama. "Irreconcilable differences of ambition" now put the Nashville duo on indefinite hiatus, it turns out. It's through that lens with which one must hear their eponymous sophomore LP.