As I type this, the second album from The Civil Wars is number 2 in the UK album chart. This is remarkable on two counts; firstly, because they are a relatively unknown American folk group in the Appalachian style (a little like a rootsier Black Keys); secondly, because technically The Civil Wars no longer exist as a group.
During the recording of The Civil Wars (TCW from hereon), the band - Joy Williams and John Paul White - announced that they were taking an indefinite hiatus. Somehow, however, they managed to spend enough time together to cobble together a finished album, and you know what? It’s not half bad.
All the usual themes are present and correct; heartbreak, distrust et al, but are somewhat elevated with the knowledge of the duo’s personal circumstances. How can you not feel the venom in Williams’ voice when she spits:
"I wish you were the one that got away”?
And that’s just the opening track… Through the rest of TCW we’re treated to every facet of a public breakup. It ought to get tiring, but it doesn’t. There’s enough variety across its 45 minutes-or-so running time to keep you interested. 'I Had Me A Girl’ rocks like a bastard, all hammered acoustics and venomous lyrics, but is followed by ‘Same Old Story’ which is willowy, whispered and slow, with plenty of autoharp so you know it’s a country love song.
Eavesdrop is particularly poignant:
"I don’t want to talk right now
I just want your arms wrapped around
Me in this moment
Before it runs out”
We’ve all felt this; those moments at the end of a relationship where you have to admit to each other that it’s all over, but you can’t bring yourself to let go of the warmth and comfort of being with someone. Take that by twelve, and you’ve pretty much got TCW. Oh, that and a rather lovely cover of the Smashing Pumpkins’ Disarm. I’ve always loved that song anyway, but done by The Civil Wars it takes on a new, considerably more mellow vibe. Not a sole reason to buy the album by any means, but an agreeable inclusion.
I hope that The Civil Wars can sort out their differences and get it together; between this and their début, Barton Hollow, they’re a truly accessible slice of country-folk Americana, and I must admit I have quite the soft spot for that sound.