Not Just a Clever Name
We all know the Civil Wars. They are Grammys winners for Best New Country Duo/Group and Best Folk Album in 2012. They were the hottest new group in acoustifolkaltcountry and wowed audiences with their simple fingerpicking folk guitar, their passionate singing and beautiful harmonies and their often sad and reflective songs on their first release, Barton Hollow. The only knock might have been they were a bit one-note, and then, in November they cancelled their tour in a stunning, supposed break up, whilst telling fans confusingly to look for new music in 2013.
That new music is here in the form of their self-titled album The Civil Wars which has everything you would expect from the duo: top notch production by their returning producer Charlie Peacock (a man with a jazz background who understands tension and release and shows so throughout): beautifully rich mixes, simple, sparse hypnotic instrumental voicings and the group’s defining vocals of creative destruction. But this album is something else entirely, too; it’s an aggressive move toward deep emotions, stirring music and old country true grit. This is the new Civil Wars.
The first two tracks define this album– tough, emotional songs that expand the Civil Wars’ repertoire in powerful ways. “The One That Got Away” opens the album with a “Gold Dust Woman”-like backing track with all the right touches. “I Had Me A Girl” takes over with classic country melody and lyrics and strong alt-country/rock power chords and lead guitar reminiscent of the Black Keys. It is an opening set of tracks that’s well worth the whole album’s price.
The Civil Wars does drift a bit back into Barton Hollowish territory with a few tracks, including “Same Old, Same Old,” and “Dust to Dust,” unsuccessfully incorporating the dissonance of a drum machine. But then the next two tracks snap back into the new Civil Wars, with “Eavesdrop” and “Devil’s Backbone,” which is the best of their signature wailing vocals, magnificently reminiscent of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” with a great middle section.
There are other gems in this album, including a Pete Seeger-inspired folk song called “From the Valley,” with another calculated bridge, and “Disarm,” an homage to the Smashing Pumpkins. The album closes thoughtfully with the French language lyrics of “Sacred Heart” and the simply elegant finale, “D’Arline.”
In sum, this album is a positive departure from the Civil Wars’ original release, expanding what we thought we knew about the duo in a number of attractive ways. Every part of it exudes the tension you expect from the band’s name, perhaps inspired by their November sort-of-breakup. The tracks continue to surprise throughout the album, and you will listen over and over. Do yourself a favor and meet the New Civil Wars.