Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Civil Wars: "The Civil Wars" (album review)

With their debut full length, Barton Hollow, The Civil Wars managed to sneak up on people.  It was a pleasant record on first listen, but as time wore on and you got more familiar (and intimate) with it, it became irresistible.  This week they are back with their self-titled sophomore album.

The cover art tells the story.  The Civil Wars is often a dark, ominous journey.  The album kicks off with "The One That Got Away", an intense, burning number.  It doesn't let up with the menacing country blues of "I Had Me A Girl".

The songs are complex and command your attention.  The Civil Wars manage to pack the power of Led Zeppelin into their music while using only a tiny fraction of the wattage.

There are few voices in any genre of music that are as versatile as that of Joy Williams.  She can rival the soaring, big lung sound of Neko Case one moment ("Oh Henry"), the be as delicate and vulnerable as Emmylou Harris the next ("Dust To Dust").

The very best moments aren't Williams on her own however.  No, the very best moments are the duets, like the beautiful breathtaking "Same Old Same Old", that feature her interplay with partner John Paul White.

The album's moment of hope comes with the single "From This Valley".  It's an uplifting, up-tempo track that offers a ray of sunshine through the dark clouds of the record.

The pair have some fun as well.  It took nearly a third of the song before I recognized their version of the Smashing Pumpkins hit "Disarm".  They even break out their French for "Sacred Heart".

I'm not sure what else can be said about The Civil Wars except that this record is hands-down the best album of the year thus far.

Best tracks: "I Had Me A Girl", "From This Valley"

Track listing for The Civil Wars:
  • The One That Got Away
  • I Had Me a Girl
  • Same Old Same Old
  • Dust To Dust
  • Eavesdrop
  • Devil's Backbone
  • From This Valley
  • Tell Mama
  • Oh Henry
  • Disarm
  • Sacred Heart
  • D'Arline

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