Shredding 6 Strings

The Civil Wars-Barton Hollow

There is a somber and minimalistic style to The Civil Wars’ first full-length studio album Barton Hollow. The simplicity of the album allows for a focus on the harmonies created by singers Joy Williams and John Paul White. Together, the folk duo provides a full, rich blend of tones that is simply pleasing for listeners. The finger picking White provides on his acoustic guitar does not blow you away like the licks of 50s blues guitarists, yet it provides the perfect complement to the nostalgic airiness of the duos’ voices.

The most important elements of The Civil Wars style are clearly evident to the listener. There are no distractions, nothing to take away from the lyrics and soft strumming reminiscent of midnight lullabies.

            The track “I’ve Got this Friend” takes you back to the bashful uncertainty of the first person you fell headlong into love with. Not as innocent as the first girl or guy that caught your eye on the playground; this song follows more mature yet just as hopeless romantics searching for something more than a surface level relationship. The guitar riff in the verses is deep and almost bass-like to provide a contrast to the higher pitched belting of Williams and White.

            The album turns to more honest account of love with the song “Poison and Wine.” The lovers in this song have been together for years and one can almost taste the half empty bottle of rich red wine which saturates and fills the living room where the couple explains that “I don’t love you but I always will.” There is no sugar coating of feelings in this song. Yet while there is undeniable strife, the listener can rest assured that this couple will stick it out till the end.

The guitar sound is muddied and it is difficult to distinguish tone which is distinctly different than the light piano which slowly moves the song forward.

The title track “Barton Hollow” and “Forget me not” are perhaps the greatest departures from the rest of the album. The Civil Wars show a diversity of sounds on these two tracks and never allow the reader to get to comfortable with one sound throughout the whole album. “Barton Hollow” is a very upbeat and driving song which carries with it a great passion and emotion that is a change from the other tracks. “Forget me not” has a bluegrass feel from the very beginning, opening with a fiddle that would fit right into the film Oh, Brother where art Thou. White also uses swells to give the song that old time feel of the prohibition era.

In Barton Hollow there is a sense of unity to the album, a clear distinction that The Civil Wars intended it to progress from one track to the next. Barton Hollow cannot be taken apart track by track and examined individually; the album is a complete piece and should be listened to as such. The Civil Wars provide a younger generation with the simple and passionate lyrics of the folk of old. The group is like watching a classic black and white movie that has been re-mastered; there is still the vintage feel yet the work appeals to a new, younger audience. Barton Hollow is simply a success.

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