What do you get when you cross Alison Krauss and Robert Plant’s Grammy Award winning Raising Sands with The Swell Season’s Academy Award winning soundtrack for Once? If you answered hauntingly sincere lyrics and beautifully understated melodies, technically you’d be correct. However, the answer we were looking for was The Civil Wars’ debut album Barton Hollow.
A bi-gender duo from disparate backgrounds, John Paul White hails from Alabama and Joy Williams from northern California, The Civil Wars were conceived two years ago at a song writing camp in Nashville. A few months later, White and Williams began playing live shows together. In fact, they recorded their second show and posted it on their website, where it would be downloaded by more than 100,000 people.
For their studio debut, the duo enlisted the help of industry heavyweight Charlie Peacock, who wisely lets the music speak for itself. The minimalist aesthetic that defined The Civil Wars’ live show is front and center on Barton Hollow. Outside of White’s acoustic guitar, the instrumentation is sparse. There may be an occasional drum kit or violin present — sometimes Williams even slips behind a piano — but it’s the fusion of White and Williams’ voices that takes precedence over everything else.
With the multitude of near perfect tracks on Barton Hollow, one might mistake it for a greatest hits album. Songs like “Falling” and “Poison & Wine” reinforce that fact that the group is comprised of two songwriting veterans and the songs “To Whom It May Concern” and “Barton Hollow” display the vocal chops of Williams and White, respectively. But it’s the playful “I’ve Got This Friend” that’s most indicative of the report that the pair have developed in such a short time. The lyrics are nuanced, the vocals are otherworldly, and the banjo is slick.