Okay, so I'm not the biggest fan of the more obscure country-tinged, indie/folk however sometimes the blending of those sounds can be done so immaculately and wonderfully you can't help but embrace it. Some good examples are American folk band Fleet Foxes, particularly their first eponymous album or Scottish singer/songwriter KT Tunstall's fantastic third album Tiger Suit. And now Barton Hollow.
So, who are The Civil Wars? The indie folk duo is made up of Christian pop singer Joy Williams, whose authentic, gracious vocal is the root of the duo's intimate and sensitive semblance--before this album the only other song I'd heard of hers was a heartfelt ballad called "I'm In Love With You," which was by accident. And John Paul White, who oddly there is limited information about, but as you would expect, balances out the graciousness of the songs with a huskier tone to his vocal.
Their sounds is very much grounded in the rootsy compositions of folkish country and light indie rock. The sharp, twiddling guitar strings of "20 Years" kicks things off, setting the tone for the whole set. It's a little bit of a slow burner, very light hearted before the gentle warbling violins pierce through the backdrop, enhancing the softening atmosphere.
"I've Got This Friend" is a little less subtle, still relying on the gentle layering of guitar strings but now playing alongside soft percussion and tambourines--complementing the beautiful harmonic vocal work on here. "C'est la Mort," is an emotional number, harboring very a melancholic melody, succumbed to poignant piano keys behind a gentle fort of tame guitar work. It's a lovely vocal matching--Williams courts such a powerful emotion within such a subtle vocal, which works magic against White's slightly more dense bearing. He takes the lead on the slightly more country/rock dominating title track "Barton Hollow."
"To Whom It May Concern" is an emotional highlight, a gentle ballad with a brittle guitar line and swooning melody that works the subtle vocal very well. It sets the stage perfectly for the even more emotional laden "Poison & Wine," a heart-felt, love-declaring ballad. It's a little reminiscent of a Lady Antebellum song.
It's no secret, The Civil Wars have a knack for capitalizing on subtlety--the instrumental "The Violet Hour" is beautiful. An angelic, whimsical venture--piano keys, lullaby-melody mimicking guitar strings, strings soothing the backdrop, penetrating the gentle melody. "Girl With the Red Balloon" is a little darker than some of the other songs, although still as subtle as ever--evoking a sense of isolation within its poignant lyrics.
Barton Hollow is a beautiful collection songs--varying from the incredibly subtle to the wonderfully upbeat and country-studded. In the midst of all the subtlety, things can get a little monotonous, but that's a minuscule flaw with such a heart-string tugging set like this.
Best: 20 Years, C'est la Mort, To Whom It May Concern, Poison & Wine, I've Got This Friend, Barton Hollow, The Violet Hour, Girl With the Red Balloon