Album Review : ‘Barton Hollow’ By The Civil Wars

You may well mistake this for an Alison Krauss and The Union Station album if you do not know who’s behind the music. That’s because the contrasting voices and melodies of Joy Williams and John Paul White of the folk-country duo The Civil Wars sound uncannily like Alison’s work with her band The Union Station (especially on her recent multiple Grammy winning album with Robert Plant ‘Raising Sand‘). And that’s not exactly a bad thing, cuz irrespective of sounding like the legendary country-bluegrass chanteuse and her band, the duo hold their ground, and deliver a great blend of folk, americana, bluegrass and country in their début album ‘Barton Hollow‘.

If you’re into folk, country or bluegrass, then I’d suggest y’all get off your asses and buy this album immediately! Sparse instrumentation blended with earthy bluesy vocals and superb lyrical content makes this one of my fave listening experiences of the year.

Being a Grey’s Anatomy fanatic, I was introduced to the duo’s music when their single ‘Poison And Wine‘ was used in the series in 2009. And how can you NOT fall in love with anything that’s playing in the background when your fave characters from the series are busy saving lives, making love, looking so amazingly hot etc. ?

The album starts off with the melodic, simple and lyrically fantastic ‘20 Years‘. Now this is melancholy redefined, and it might just break your heart into a coupla bite sized chunks.

The same strain continues in the second song ‘I’ve Got This Friend‘. It’s tranquil, its polite, and ironically, war never sounded so good! The lyrics got to me on the first listen itself, and it’s the simplicity that makes this easily one of the best songs on the album.

‘Oh I’ve got this friend
A loveless romantic
All that he really wants
Is someone to want him back
Ohh, if the right one came
If the right one came along…’

Through the rest of the album, the duo transition effortlessly between melancholy and introspection, mostly accompanied by perfect harmonies, an acoustic guitar and driven by their vocal abilities, until they reach a crescendo with the rock-bluesy and dark title track ‘Barton Hollow‘, which is a fictional place brought to life by the duo’s stupendous rendition of the song.

Won’t do me no good washing in the river
Can’t no preacher man save my soul

Following the dark explosion that is the title track, the album takes a downright eerie turn with the only instrumental track of the album, and a personal favorite. With a simple cello in the background, ‘The Violet Hour‘ is mesmerizing, and it’s bound to conjure a variety of images in the listener’s mind, basically sending a chill or two down their spines.

The album concludes with a song that defines everything that the duo has created on their début album, subtle folk-pop with elements of mystery and melancholy, and stunning lyricism. ‘Birds Of A Feather‘ makes for a stunning conclusion to an album that heralds the triumphant début of a duo that deserves every bit of the accolades they’ve been showered with lately, and then some more.

She’s the sea I’m sinkin’ in
He’s the ink under my skin
Sometimes I can’t tell where I am
Where I leave off and he begins
But who could do without you?
And who could do without you?’

A duo like this comes once in a while, when they dare to stick to just good music, and nothing at all. And such rare instances need to be focused on, instead of letting their amazing talent slip away through our hands in the face of overwhelming commercialization and gimmickry. Definitely worthy of a few Grammy’s next year.

The Civil Wars have just begun, and I believe they have a long way to go.