The end of an enticing duo
The Civil Wars end their brilliant folk/country career
Fans of the country-folk duo The Civil Wars will likely never hear their eponymous second album live. The Civil Wars, comprised of singer Joy Williams and singer and guitarist John Paul White, broke up last year, soon after they finished recording. Williams, who has been making all promotional appearances for the album alone, revealed that White hasn’t spoken to her since the split.
The duo first met while writing songs for the Nashville country music machine. Williams and White’s backgrounds couldn’t be more different: Williams is a former Christian music singer from California, while White is a Tennessee native who played in alt-rock bands before forming The Civil Wars. The duo seemed content until they abruptly cancelled their European tour last year, citing irreconcilable personal differences.
Their split is a true loss to the music world. Williams and White have written some of the most beautiful and emotionally powerful music heard in recent years. They first broke out with the single “Barton Hollow,” a haunting plea for redemption, in 2011. The song later won them a Grammy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. They reached even greater national popularity after collaborating with Taylor Swift for her single “Safe and Sound” from “The Hunger Games” soundtrack.
Their first album, “Barton Hollow,” was praised for its sparse yet lyrical style, and for Williams’ and White’s signature harmonies. The new album has them re-visiting their characteristic poetic folk pop flair, though in a much darker manner. It’s hard not to imagine the duo’s personal conflict when listening, especially during the opening single “The One That Got Away.” As Williams and White croon, “I never meant to get us in this deep, I never meant for this to mean a thing,” it could very easily be interpreted as a mournful ballad to their own lost friendship.
Another standout is the achingly romantic “Dust to Dust.” From the beginning of their musical collaboration, Williams and White have often had to deny allegations of a romance between them, simply because of their deeply evocative music and lyrics, shown in full force here. Meanwhile, “Devil’s Backbone” is practically a sequel to their first hit, “Barton Hollow.” Both evoke shadowy images of sin, murder and a desperate need for forgiveness. The duo’s subtle religious tones come out in songs such as this and “From This Valley,” a more uplifting and inspiring country tune.
The Civil Wars’ new album shows further growth from their first work, but unfortunately, we are unlikely to see more music to come. The personal conflict within the duo means the end of their musical collaboration, but it also shaped one of the most emotionally powerful and deeply poetic albums of the year.