Review: The Civil Wars, ‘The Civil Wars’


The Civil Wars⎪ The Civil Wars ⎪ Sensibility / Columbia ⎪⎪ US Release Date: August 2, 2013

Joy Williams and John Paul White-AES-052476How does one categorize the Grammy-winning band The Civil Wars?  “That is the questions”, to put in Shakespearean speak.  Regardless of the label you’d give the intriguing duo of Joy Williams or John Paul White, they definitely show their top-rate musicianship on highly anticipated sophomore album, The Civil Wars. The album isn’t quite a modern masterpiece per se (there are some flaws), but all in all is very well executed.

The One That Got Away” opens The Civil Wars brilliantly, with light production work (more oomph about the refrain) and an overall dark tilt about it.  “Oh if I could go back in time / when you only held me in my mind / just 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”. Deep stuff man.  “I Had Me A Girl” keeps the momentum up, initiating with a distorted electric guitar and settling into a killer, six-eight groove.  The chorus is centered around “oohs” as opposed to lyrics themselves, but it actually further endears the track to the listener.  The vocal chemistry? Exceptional.

John Paul White and Joy Williams-AES-061101Same Old Same Old” continues to allure, with the vocal duet on the chorus serving as a bright spot.  Perhaps it is a bit sleepy at times, but not in deal breaking fashion.  “Dust To Dust” shows restraint, a key characteristic throughout this effort, but also sports a definite groove for the listener to embrace.  Smoothness of the cut itself is a pro, but an arguable con is that the cuts relies too much on that looping groove.  Still, “Dust to Dust” is quite beautiful, particularly the refrain: “Let me in the wall / you’ve built around / we can light a match / and burn it down / let me hold your hand / and dance ‘round and ‘round in flames / in front of us / dust to dust”.  Like “Dust To Dust”, “Eavesdrop” is solid with conservative production and pure, polished vocals.  It’s not quite elite like the opening duo, but its no slouch either.

Devil’s Backbone” packs a mighty punch over the course of 2:29, with the haunting “ooo” and the bridge section being highlights in particular.  “From This Valley” is even stronger, contrasting the darker “Devil’s Backbone” with some necessitated jubilance.  The touches of pedal steel adorn, adding more weight to nothing short of a ‘juggernaut’. The final verse is nothing short of stunning: “Oh the caged bird dreams of a strong wind / that will flow beneath her wins / like a voice longs for a melody / Oh Jesus carry me”.  The nuances, the artistry, and overall passion of The Civil Wars shines loftily on “From This Valley”.

Tell Mama” continues to highlight the duo’s gifts, while “Oh Henry” excites a bit more, propelled by its prominent rhythmic guitar driving the tempo.  The duo covers The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm” (written by Billy Corgan), and while the results are  The Civil Wars-AES-039751pretty good, It would be an overstatement to call it magnificent. “Sacred Heart” and “D’Arline” aren’t bad, but sag compared to more electrifying numbers throughout the effort.

All in all, The Civil Wars is a well conceived album that features some exceptional musicianship.  The vocals are stunning and for the most part, the production work and arrangements are also great.  Sometimes, some of the arrangements could benefit from some extra orchestration/ideas.  Additionally, sometimes the effort could use a bit more punch.  Ultimately, The Civil Wars lays well with few rubs or mishaps.

Favorites: “The One That Got Away”; “I Had Me A Girl”; “Devil’s Backbone”; “From This Valley”

Verdict: ✰✰✰½

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