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Sweet And Sombre Debut From Fame-Bound Nashville Duo
Celina Murphy, 13 Mar 2012
Let’s start with the bad news: The Civil Wars are going to be a difficult band to recommend to your friends.
One of an estimated eight billion country folk duos currently operating out of Nashville, Tennessee, the Stateside pair deal primarily in melancholic ballads which appear equally out of place in the pop, rock, alternative, country and folk charts.
Sure, they have a Grammy. Sure, Adele loves them. Sure, they were handpicked along with Bon Iver and The Decemberists for a collaboration on the new Chieftains album. Sure, they’ve got a single out with Taylor Swift, but they are, essentially, a man and a woman singing about precisely what you’d expect a man and a woman to sing about, alongside some sombre guitar picking. And t’ain’t no-one gonna be ridin’ a polecat over the Jackson river to hear that.
If you enjoyed that hastily-researched metaphor, I’m sorry to say you’ll be rather disappointed with Barton Hollow, an album that, in spite of its Nashville roots and instantly recognisable Deep South flow, contains almost no cartoonish country and western clichés.
John Paul White and Joy Williams are very serious about what they do. They compare hearing their voices together for the first time to love at first sight, and while I’m not sure that the songs on Barton Hollow are quite as dynamic as this story suggests, there’s certainly something special about their sweet and gritty vocal alloy.
The title-track is the only song chirpy enough to stomp along to, but surprisingly, the uniformity of the remaining 11 (all soft, sensitive ballads) doesn’t harm the likability of the record. Okay, so when Williams gushes about, “The way your hand feels around my waist, the way you laugh, the way your kisses taste…”, we’re hardly astonished by her originality, but when both the sentiment and delivery is this pure, it’s tough to care.
Thankfully, for every platitude, there’s a plunge; acoustic guitar and piano are intermittently joined by organ, banjo, strings, and even a bit of synth, while cinematic instrumental number ‘The Violet Hour’ and the theatrical ‘Falling’ bear just a hint of experimentation.