Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” I couldn’t agree more. I’ve found that often the most profound and honest things in life come without bells and whistles. The same could be said of The Civil Wars.
I was first introduced to the folk duo by my friend and fellow Waking writer, Crystal. After downloading two of their free Christmas songs, I was excited to hear that they would be releasing their first full length album – an album that later became the number 1 downloaded digital album on the billboard charts.
The album opens with the softly arresting “20 Years,” a beautifully composed song that has a compelling guitar line and lyrics. Next comes one of my personal favorites, the incredibly charming “I’ve Got This Friend.” The theme of love – whether optimistic, wistful, or painful – is the common thread that weaves the album together; it’s not only harmonious on a musical level, but on a lyrical one as well.
“C’est la Mort” is a tender song that talks of loving someone so much, you’ll follow them anywhere – even death. I think anyone can appreciate the honesty and vulnerability of “To Whom It May Concern.”
The title track, “Barton Hollow,” is the definite standout of the album. It injects some much needed vigor to the otherwise sleepy track list. I appreciated Joy Williams and John Paul White pushing their vocal performance beyond a safe ballad; it was exciting to hear the two finally belt it out during a song! Which begs the question: why weren’t there more songs like it?
“The Violet Hour” is an instrumental piece, which evokes melancholy imagery, while “Girl With the Red Balloon” is an atmospheric track that toes the line between dark and whimsy. The solemn turn continues with “Falling.” White takes the back burner on this track, allowing Williams’ haunting vocals to take center stage.
My favorite song, “Forget Me Not,” is the closest you’ll find to traditional country on this album. There is a very pleasant and pure quality about it, and musically, it is incredibly rich. The high note continues with “Birds of a Feather,” a song about two destructive people loving each other, ultimately to their detriment.
The Civil Wars deliver beautiful covers of “I Want You Back” and “Dance Me to the End of Love.” The latter contains gorgeous harmonies; White and Williams play off each other perfectly, often sounding as though their voices were crafted specifically to sing together.
“Barton Hollow” is a strong debut album that’s full of beautiful and accessible music; a combination that wins every time.