The Civil Wars are no more.
The Americana duo were truly a blessing for music and offered not only one of the best debut albums in Barton Hollow but a truly intense live experience.
I was privileged enough to see them twice, once at the Night And Day Cafe in Manchester with no more than 20 people and then at the Shepherds Bush Empire, London.
I wrote this review shortly after the gig in London in 2012. Enjoy a stroll through the archive
The Shepherds Bush Empire is seething with people. We’re all here for the same reason, that’s the Nashville duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White. They had played to big crowds before when supporting Adele but this crowd is theirs. John Paul is sophistication personified as he strides out in a dinner jacket and tie, greeted by a glass of bourbon and followed by the poise and elegance of frock wearing joy. She can barely contain herself, with smile after smile sneaking across her face. It’s infectious. The crowd can do nothing but smile back and listen to her stage patter as she proclaims “Why are you all here?” The answer is simple. The Civil Wars are Exceptional.
They ease in and out of songs from their debut album “Barton Hollow” and throw in neatly reworked covers, like “I want you back” by the Jackson Five, which is no longer the upbeat sing-along you remember, rather a deliberate romantic, encounter played with precision and hair-curling harmonies. Something is quite haunting about the harmonies that these two produce as they bend their bodies from the microphone to add to the splendour of songs such as “My father’s father” and “C’est La Mort”. A trait seemingly taken straight out of the Gillian Welch and David Rawlings handbook, especially accompanied with the simplicity of their stage. There are no extra musicians, no banner sporting their name, no gimmicks. It’s about the music here. Apart from Joy occasionally slinking over to a piano to accompany such songs as the utterly seductive “poison and wine”, they stand together. Their chemistry on the stage is like a perfectly rehearsed play, they seamlessly act out their set.
The crowd are transfixed by this special blend of country and Americana music with a folky core. As every song is being absorbedly listened to, the crowd is an eerie kind of silent. Every note dances its way to the back of the venue, reaching every person. When the music stops, the place erupts. Leaving White and Williams to stand and take the plaudits they so sorely deserve and are humbled to receive.
They quip about Adele using them and on the evidence of tonight ,coupled with the fact they have sold out their UK tour and will return to the US to play numerous festivals, they could well be right.
The highlight of the night is the barnstorming title track “Barton Hollow”. Its burly guitar riff piques all interest, encouraging everyone in attendance to move, Joy stamps her foot through every line and sways with the melody. They launch into the tune with fierce vocals, played out in perfect harmony. Their voices brawl to the finish, Williams with her hypnotic gothic sound and White with his striking power intertwine faultlessly. It calms to finish as they show remarkable control and drift into its complete opposite “falling”, which is an enchanting love affair which cools everyone down after warming them up. Its moments like this that proves they are deserved of their double Grammy success.
A stunning rendition of “Billie Jean” closes the encore, a song which is played with real satisfaction from both parties. London shows its appreciation with rapturous applause which doesn’t end until Williams and White are most likely back on their bus.
At one point during the night, a voice climbed out from the crowd proclaiming “CONGRATULATIONS”. This is most likely in response to Williams’ news that she is an expectant mother; however it could equally simply be recognition of them achieving something truly special. From a backroom writing desk in Nashville they are building their legacy, succeeding with an air of class and sophistication. The Civil Wars will be around for a long time to come. Join the revolution.
Tip Of My Tongue
Forget Me Not
From This Valley
I’ve Got This Friend
Sour Times (Portishead Cover)
C’est La Mort
I Want You Back (Jackson 5 Cover)
Birds Of A Feather
To Whom It May Concern
My Father’s Father
Poison & Wine
Billie Jean (Michael Jackson cover)
Dance Me To The End Of Love (Leonard Cohen cover)