It is not often you get a new release from a band on official ‘hiatus’, especially one who went separate ways due to “internal discord and irreconcilable difference of ambition” in the middle of a European tour in 2012. Alas, the new self titled album from The Civil Wars may be the last we ever hear from John Paul White and Joy Williams as a vocally harmonious duo.
The initial tracks starting with The One That Got Away pave the way for what would appear to be an album which delicately draws out and depicts a tragedy of ‘what could have been’ with The Civil Wars; we’re teased with song after song of brilliant writing, vocals and just an overwhelming sense of incredible talent; Same Old Same Old seems to represent the foundations on which the album was formed and the premise of a tense and exhausted relationship becomes apparent “I don’t want to fight, but I’ll fight with you if I have to”. Unfortunately, there isn’t a sense of a follow through throughout the entire album. In no way does the album become a complete failure after the first few songs but it is after these songs that its weaknesses become apparent; Sacred Heart, written and sung in French, in a way it is proof that music breaks language barriers because it sounds beautiful, however there’s something unsettling about not being able to appreciate it lyrically without feeling insincere, unless you’re up to scratch on your French vocabulary.
Given the recent history of the band, it may come as no surprise that The Civil Wars does not have an equal amount of optimism that could be found in their first release, Barton Hollow. There isn’t a change in musical direction with The Civil Wars; instead we’re offered a bittersweet continuation of Barton Hollow. There are definitely some wonderfully put together songs on the album: Devil’s Backbone is an illustration of how The Civil Wars manage to remain traditional whilst still being able to define their sound in a persistent outpouring of Americana country music. If this is the last we do hear from The Civil Wars it very difficult to accept this as ‘IT’ they have been essential in bringing together country, folk and sounds that encompass a sense of American history to a mass global audience and this album is testament to that.