The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars


thecivilwars-2013-albumcoverThe Civil Wars eponymous second record, likely exemplifying the irony of their band name better now than ever, is an intensely melancholy and yet genre-expanding contribution from a band we may never hear from again. Within a month of its release on Columbia Records and under the production of Charlie Peacock, the band has cancelled its tours, stopped speaking to one another, and only half of this duo is participating in any press or promotion.  That said, musicians John-Paul White and Joy Williams forged an album amidst turmoil that ultimately ended their artistic collaboration and envelops listeners in the pendulum swings of a painful relationship.  What is brought to bear here is a uniquely intriguing juxtaposition of passion and heartache rooted in country and blues stylings.

This album has few joyful high notes for listeners to hold onto.  Rather, it strikes them with songs and lyrics imbued with acute post break up regret and a desolation over the rueful path of a relationship.  This is most vividly, and perhaps most hauntingly portrayed on their single “The One That Got Away.”

“Oh, if I could go back in time
when you only held me in my mind
Just a longing gone without a trace
oh, I wish I’d never even seen your face
I wish you were the one

Wish you were the one that got away”

Their lyrics are as vivid as they are biting at times, never sparing listeners their raw emotions but also extending something beautiful and unguarded at the same time. Songs like “I Had Me A Girl,” “Same Old, Same Old”, and “Devil’s Backbone”  are regretful tunes lamenting loss, regret, and examinations of partner’s faults while songs like “Oh, Henry” break a predominantly acoustic and sentimental vibe with gritty electric guitar and accusations of adultery. They also dabble in covers, paying homage to The Smashing Pumpkins on “Disarm” and Etta James with “Tell Mama.”  The Civil Wars dwell mostly in the realm of country/blues here.  Listeners looking for a parallel might liken them to The Weepies perhaps going through a musically domestic dispute and also Lady Antebellum.

Though this is obviously an album emblematic of a troubled relationship, both in the abstract and the actual, there is nary a sense of resolution here giving listeners permission to exhale. It starts to feel like emo gone country after a while, though the flashes of the joy a relationship once held leave a saccharine taste in listeners mouths. These tracks can play like a lyrical/musical divorce at times, full of irreconcilable differences and regret. However intense the themes of the album may be, the inklings of catharsis seem to be for the artists themselves rather than for the listeners whose pity may be evoked. In light of more recent events one cannot help but wonder how much the record was a venture in vulnerability as opposed to an exorcism of the demons of a professional and musical relationship.

The Civil Wars’ musical collaborations as well as most of their musical catalogue has been emblematic of struggle, of friction, of adversity and of turmoil that may not always have a happy ending.  Point of fact, in this case it doesn’t. The release of their album has coincided with several poetic and sad ironies not the least of which are it’s rocketing to top of the charts in the Country Music category and also the news that the band itself is breaking up and will be doing no touring to support it.  John Paul Williams won’t even do any press or allow interviews as of the release. Time will tell if this duo is on terminal hiatus, however, if this is album marks the punctuation of The Civil Wars collaboration, listeners can step away having been exposed to music that enhances the country-blues genre while taking a step or two outside conventional boxes and tugging at heart strings with thought provoking lyrics reflecting true struggle behind the music. Audiences should invest in this album though because amidst the pain found here, the artistry and talent behind it give it a buoyancy that make it well worth the listening to.

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