The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow

The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow
Album Reviews

A joyously refreshing and heartfelt collection of original material.



Label: Columbia Records
Released: 5th March 2012
Reviewer: Maxwell Baker
American singer-songwriters Joy Williams and John Paul White, aka The Civil Wars, have an unenviable reputation in the British media. The pair are heavily feted and fancied prospect, despite the fact that their music has not yet been widely circulated on our fair isle.

A combination of gushing praise from Adele, Grammy wins, and a DIY album campaign that has sold 300,000 across the pond has lifted their status beyond what would normally be expected of a band whose songs you could not, until now, legally own. Even if you’re not inclined to take the opinions of Adele/the Grammy awards particularly seriously, The Civil Wars have clearly been making music that music journalists have judged deserves serious discussion.

Having charted impressively in the US Indie, Folk and Rock charts, expectations are not only high, but come from various music communities. The implication is that The Civil Wars produce music that can appeal to both dedicated Folk fans and mainstream chart lovers in equal measure.

The remarkable accomplishment of 'Barton Hollow' is that it seemingly achieves these feats, with room to spare. Delicate duets, bluegrass string strumming and some of the most genuinely emotive lyrics you’ll hear all year combine to produce an album of rare and beautiful quality.

Sometimes 'Barton Hollow' can be heart rending, as in 'To Whom It May Concern'. Beautifully understated lyrics, layered over a simple – almost frail – melody, give this show of emotional vulnerability a real power. Undoubtedly one of the album’s highlights, it will pull you back for another listen each and every time.

That having been said in the album’s title track, the tempo shifts to a toe-tapping bluegrass swagger, painting Williams and White as outlaws on the run from the law; and it’s a great deal more infectious and catchy than you might have imagined from the album’s opening.

Tone and mood then, are varied and well executed at every turn. However, there is of course no such thing as a perfect album, and the baffling inclusion of 'Billie Jean' is out of place, disjointed, and ultimately faintly embarrassing. After enjoying to a joyously refreshing and heartfelt collection of original material, tacking on this Michael Jackson karaoke favourite is a decision made in poor judgement.

It is said that the duo are a treat to behold in their live performances. With the intimacy and raw lyrical power demonstrated in 'Barton Hollow', The Civil Wars are a must-see in 2012. Who knows, you might even rub shoulders with Adele.
Rating: 9/10
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