The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow

23 March, 2012

By  Katerina Antonopoulou

The duo from Nashville Tennessee, Joy Williams and John Paul White aka Civil Wars, formed in 2009 and it took them nearly 2 years to release their debut LP "Barton Hollow". It took me approximately 4 more months to buy their album. I first heard them in Youtube while searching Elliot Smith's "Between The Bars" when I stumbled across their brilliant acoustic cover of his song. White's feeling and guitar playing in combination with the sweet almost fragile voice of Williams was more than enough to make me listen to their first title single "Barton Hollow".


It came as surprise to me when I realised that the duo that had been marked in my memory as a "sweet folky band" had a lot more to show than that. "Barton Hollow" (which led them to South by Southwest -SXSW- as showcasing artists for 2011) moves in a darkier, more bluegrass direction that keeps bringing in my mind tormented souls sitting and drinking themselves to oblivion in dusty bars in the middle of nowhere in the American South. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that you hear White and Williams sing "I'm a dead man walking here, that's the least of all my fears…. Ain't going back to Barton Hollow, devil gonna follow me e'er I go, won't do me no good washing in the river. Can't no preacher man save my soul.. I know the Lord my soul won't take". The interesting fact though is that even in this song, which is the most intense  -when it comes to guitars- of the album, their entwined voices make the greatest impression. As it should. Especially when they are mostly singing about heartache, difficult lived lives and lost souls.


While listening to "Forget me not" and "Birds of a feather" you realise that they never forget their country-style and bluesy backround throughout the album and are always determined to have a full story unfold through their lyrics.


Honestly, the thing that I enjoyed most in this album is the fact that even in the more romantically gloomy songs (lyrically speaking) like "To whom it may concern", "Poison and Wine", "Falling" or "Girl with the red balloon" the melodies don't just simply make you feel sad. They haunt you.

This is a band that rarely gets "loud". For the most part they use an acoustic guitar and sometimes a violin and a piano thus letting their voices lead the way. Even the two covers that are included in the album, "I want you" byJackson5's and "Dance me to the end of love" by Leonard Cohen, are quite melodical and prove that Civil Wars aren't here to literally make some noise. Not that noise is bad. On the contrary. But there are moments where you just need to wind down a noch. And this Southern duo is cut out for the job.


Ps: Did I mention that they won two awards at the 2012 Grammy - Best Folk Album and Best Country Duo/Group Performance?




Primary Genre: Americana    

SubgenreFolk, Country 

Release Date1 February 2011

Label: Sensibility

InfluencesJohnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday

Like This And You'll Probably Also Like:  Heaven knows. Hopefully not Taylor Swift...

Album Highlights: Barton Hollow, Between The Bars











"Emotional + acoustic + deep + american (in the good way) = interesting. Certainly worth checking out if you care about the aforementioned adjectives, 7/10"




Contributor mini-profile

Katerina Antonopoulou

Katerina Antonopoulou

10 Fluffy Reviews
Remember what Dread Astaire used to sing: “Shit happens when you party naked”. It sounds disturbingly fun. Don’t you think?
Mini bio

She almost failed math in high school because instead of solving integrals she kept reading "Q" and "NME". Luckily she is somewhat intelligent and managed to get her degree from Uni. She now works her way towards becoming a broker, which would be relatively easy if it wasn't for the fact that her social skills are equal to those of Mr Bean.

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