Published on Thursday, September 19, 2013 by Robert Morgan
“I never meant to get us in this deep.” The opening line to The Civil Wars’ new CD, The Civil Wars, packs a powerful punch that can be viewed as the singer’s Joy Williams’ and John Paul White’s personal reflection over their past five years.
Williams and White met at a songwriting camp in Nashville, Tennessee in 2008. Musically, it was a match made in heaven. The creative geniuses that are Williams and White create songs that can evoke all types of emotions as well as bring up memories of past love affairs. But, along with the light that seems to come with their songs, there is a dark cloud hovering over.
In November 2012, The Civil Wars went on hiatus. According to People Magazine, the break was due to creative differences. While recording, Williams said that she and White couldn’t even look at each other. Yet, despite creative differences, the duo found a way to make another beautiful album.
The opening two songs, “The One That Got Away” and “I Had Me a Girl” are both rock inspired tunes, but contrast in theme. While both reflecting on past relationships, “The One That Got Away” shows the regret of letting a relationship develop into what it has become, an intense love affair and cat-and-mouse game, while “I Had Me a Girl” is about the happier aspects of the fallen relationship. Both songs display Williams’ and White’s vocal abilities and the amazing writing quality that they both have.
Going back to the folk roots of the duo, “Same Old Same Old” details how you can be in love with someone but also want to shake things up in the relationship. This song feels as if it belongs on their first album, Barton Hollow, because, although “Same Old Same Old” does show off the versatility of Williams and White on this album, it is just the same old, same old that we’re used to seeing.
“Dust to Dust” and “Eavesdrop” are undeniably the two most heartbreaking songs on the album. The power of the lyrics and the emotions present in the vocals take the listener back to a distant memory, a place you used to be so fond of, a person who you were so in love with. You can’t help but think that Williams and White wrote this song specifically for you.
The shortest song on the album, “Devil’s Backbone,” is simple and to the point. Talking about a man on the run, Williams is begging for forgiveness of this man. This may not be one of the best songs on the album, but it is a fun song to listen to on a midsummer day.
One of the more camp-esque songs, “From This Valley” is just that; grab a bunch of friends, sit around a campfire, and sing it at the top of your lungs. It shows that The Civil Wars isn’t all seriousness and that they can have fun while making great music.
Being a new mom, you can hear Williams’ connection to “Tell Mama”. Although it was not written by a member of the duo, the emotions are still very present. Her plea for her son to, in the future, tell her what’s going on in his life brings out the motherly instincts and her love for her son.
Confronting a cheating man, “Oh Henry” shows that this duo doesn’t mess around when it comes on monogamy. “Either you’re my everything or we’re nothing” is the main point that the duo wants to make with this song. Williams and White could be using this song to allude to their problems as a group: either we stay as a duo or we don’t make music anymore.
White gets to show off his vocal ability in “Disarm.” The sweet sound this song produces creates a longing to hear more of White on the remainder of this album and hopefully on future albums. Williams is a phenomenal vocalist, no doubt about it, but White has a certain element that he brings to the table that is powerful and has not been previously showcased.
The duo is no stranger to their French tongue which is made obvious through “Sacred Heart.” The beauty of the French language is displayed here and, although many people will not understand the words, they can still be engulfed by the beauty that is found within the music.
Perfectly ending the album, “D’Arline” shows how love sometimes runs its course. One person can still be in love with the other, but if the feelings aren’t mutual the best thing the other person can do is wish them the best. Ending the album on a positive note, Williams and White seem to be giving each other a farewell into the future, whatever it may be for the duo.
The Civil Wars takes a slightly different route with their music on this album. Rock- inspired hits, going back to folk roots, and heartbreaking ballads make The Civil Wars so breathtaking. To get a glimpse of the full essence that is the duo, “The One That Got Away” captures the intensity of Williams and White and “Tell Mama” shows the emotional and sensitive side of the duo. I would strongly recommend this album to everyone, but, be warned, you might find yourself caught up in the past.
For musicians, creative differences are almost inevitable. The internal discord that occurred gave Williams and White the passion to make these songs the best that they can be and to create a beautiful album.