Artist: The Civil Wars
Title: The Civil Wars
Label: Columbia Records
Release Date: 8/6/13
Reviewer: Ian Zandi
- The One That Got Away
- I Had Me a Girl
- Same Old Same Old
- Dust to Dust
- Devil’s Backbone
- From This Valley
- Tell Mama
- Oh Henry
- Disarm (Smashing Pumpkins Cover)
- Sacred Heart
“‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.”
-William Shakesphere’s Romeo and Juliet
The Civil Wars is a band composed of Joy Williams (a former Christian pop artist) and a Johnny Depp doppelgänger by the name of John Paul White. They may have started out quaint, but The Civil Wars suddenly found their way on everybody’s radar (aka Spotify playlists) with their hits “Poison and Wine” as well as “Barton Hollow”. Their debut album Barton Hollow was a huge success and was favored among the hearts of many during the folk revival alongside Mumford & Sons, Of Monsters and Men, and The Lumineers. Soon after, they swiftly had their success tailored by collaborating with Taylor Swift on song “Safe & Sound” which was featured on the Hunger Games Soundtrack. Unfortunately, some “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition” had caused the band to take a halt at the peak of their success. Fortunately, Williams and White did return in 2013 to release an album that communicated their struggles in a musical form.
When artists refer to “The one that got away…”, they are usually longing to the lost subject. However, the first single from The Civil Wars toys with the notion that they want a certain someone to be the one that slips from their grasp and become “The One That Got Away”. This same raw energy and emotion carries over to “I Had Me A Girl.” This particular track also starts to give the listeners a glimpse of the singers’ spiritual relationship as they sing alternate verses and join in on the chorus.
The next few songs “Same Old Same Old”, “Dust to Dust”, “Eavesdrop” and “Devil’s Backbone” are slower, intimate, whispered and give the listener the impression of being told honest statements that are told from the bottom of their hearts. This set of songs is very bittersweet. They long for companionship; yet, the artists are also recognizing faults in each other. On “Devil’s Backbone”, this knowledge of folly and sin is recognized, but the lyrics are pleading to the Lord to “not take the sinner from me”.
For the record, the most spiritual song recorded on the record is “From This Valley”. Possessing the chord progression that could naturally found in a praise song, this song pretty much is a praise song. I find it quite fantastic that such a blatant worship song could be found in a “mainstream” release.
“Oh won’t you take me from this valley
To that mountain high above
Oh I will pray, pray, pray till I see your smiling face
I will pray, pray, pray to the one that I love”
“Tell Mama” is all about telling “Mamma” about all of your worries and your strife. Though this could be referring to a literal mother (and it probably is), I think about this figure much like the comforting Elousia from the hit novel The Shack. “Oh Henry” verges on the edge of being country and is slightly irritating to me because I simply do not know who “Henry” is. I feel left out. The song involves gossip, betrayal, and death (pickup trucks not included).
“Disarm” is a unique track in the fact that it is actually a cover song (originally performed by The Smashing Pumpkins). I personally do not think that it is as good as the original track but it is hard to compare the two. The first version is like a Pumpkin Spice Latte and this version is like a Peppermint Mocha. Both are good, different, and unique but the first is obviously better. I do think that this is a fitting song for this album with the memorable line “The killer in me is the killer in you”.
“Sacred Heart” is slightly misleading with an English title because the song itself is sung in French. While the song sounds incredible sung in a foreign language, one must wonder why these lyrics about waiting for a love are coded in French. “D’Arline” is a song that is seemingly inspired by a love letter written by physicist Richard Feynman to his wife 2 years after her death in 1946. The letter itself is endearing and quite heart breaking. The song adaption sadly falls short of its companion. I can’t help but imagine that The Civil Wars could have conjured up a masterpiece of a song with such quality material given to them.
Overall: Self-titled releases tend to make a statement of the band. The Civil Wars actually caught a double-whammy of this effect as their innocently named band became true to the members themselves. The listeners are treated as mediators as all of John and Joy’s aggression, bittersweet emotions, and musical skills are expressed. Maybe The Civil Wars were doomed from the start with such a name. Hopefully, this will not become true. Let us hope and pray that the members of The Civil Wars may be able to find peace and reconciliation so that we may further receive the blessing that is their music.
RIYL: Jenny & Tyler, Of Monsters and Men, Head and the Heart, Tom Kell and Emiko Woods