Album Review | The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars

Joy Williams recently told the Associated Press, “If you want to know what happened to the band, listen to the album.”

The album is The Civil Wars, the sophomore self-titled release by Williams and John Paul White, a duo, who, as you might have read, are not currently on speaking terms.

The language used by Williams in the aforementioned interview is somewhat simultaneously guarded and dangerous. Does she really want us to draw our own conclusions from these intense and personal songs? Or does she just not want to talk about it? (Perhaps the biggest clue comes from producer Charlie Peacock, who recently told NPR: “I picked up on the tension right from the start of the recording in September 2012. I wrote it off as lingering fatigue, and a widening gap between a northerner worker bee full of analysis, inspiration and work ethic (Joy), and the poster child for southern rock mythology (JP) — where it’s always thought best to wait on the inspiration with the least amount of talking about music.”)

We’ll possibly never know what happened between Williams and White, but my gut tells me that these songs are too good to not be performed live someday. There is not a “Poison & Wine” here, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. The collective raw emotion from “Eavesdrop,” “Dust to Dust,” “I Had Me a Girl,” and “Same Old Same Old” make up for the rush of immediate praise that viral single brings. You just have to give this magic a bit more time.

Williams and White’s voices together create an immediate impact, sure, but failing to acknowledge the layers of these songs would be a mistake. This collection is much more dense than its predecessor, Barton Hollow, which, was excellent. But it’s the cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm” that helps this album free its wings, and it’s the closing “D’Arline” that takes flight from a past artistic relationship between Williams and White, which now seems light years away from where it began.

This is a fine gift from two artists who might not be speaking with one another, but we can still hear their voices. The result is haunting, fresh, never disappointing.

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