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Live At Sundance (Entire Album)









The Civil Wars

About the Artist

In some ways, music doesn’t get much more modest or minimalist than it is in the hands of The Civil Wars, a duo comprised of California-to-Nashville transplant Joy Williams and her Alabaman partner, John Paul White. They travel without a backup band, and on their first full-length album, Barton Hollow, the bare-bones live arrangements that fans hear on the road are fleshed out with just the barest of acoustic accoutrements. Each song is an intimate conversation, and no third wheels or dinner-party chatter are going to interrupt that gorgeous, haunting hush.
On the other hand, there’s been something distinctly loud about the duo’s introduction to the world, even prior to the album’s release. Their signature song “Poison & Wine” was heard on Grey’s Anatomy—in the foreground, in its entirety, over a key climactic montage, prompting hundreds of thousands of viewers to Google the mystery music. And they got a wholly unsolicited endorsement when America’s biggest pop star gave The Civil Wars a seal of approval. After first tweeting her love for the duo, fellow Nashvillian Taylor Swift included “Poison & Wine” as a selection in her official iTunes playlist, saying, “I think this is my favorite duet. It’s exquisite.” Swift took the words right out of the folk-country-Americana world’s mouth. If it looks like The Civil Wars’ appeal might cast a net that extends well beyond the typical audience for acoustically based music, that may be due to the inherent sensibilities Williams and White bring to their collaboration, which are quite disparate, if not necessarily warring. Both were gigging and recording on their own prior to teaming up a year and a half ago, neither solo career quite suggesting what their conjoined sound would turn out to be. “I do naturally bend pop,” says Williams, who adds that she “grew up on Billie Holliday and The Beach Boys.” White, meanwhile, was raised on Kristofferson, Cash, and Townes Van Zandt by his retro-country-favoring dad. “Somehow we’re pulling from each other what we crave and what our strengths are,” he says. If the music ultimately leans more toward White’s native South than Williams’ northern Cali roots, he says, “I think Joy’s got some hillbillies in her ancestry or something like that. There’s a song on our record called ‘My Father’s Father’ that we wrote on the day of the inauguration down in Muscle Shoals, not long after we got together. I started playing the guitar figure and she starting singing this amazing Appalachian kind of melody, and I’m like, ‘Don’t even pretend that you’re the pop girl and you come out with shit like that!’ I don’t know where this stuff is coming from, but she’s drawing it from somewhere, and it’s amazing.””Poison & Wine” isn’t just The Civil Wars’ breakout song. It’s also a thematic declara-tion of intent for this utterly complementary odd couple, encapsulating everything suggested in the duo’s name when it comes to exploring the conflicts that arise as part of couple-hood. Speaking of which: They aren’t, that—a couple, that is. But they’re far from insulted if you mistake them for An Item in the storied tradition of the Swell Season, Richard and Linda Thompson, or other famous duos whose on-again, off-again relationships offstage complicated their stage relations.

“A lot of people think that we’re married, and I think that’s actually quite flattering, to be honest,” says White. “Because we don’t want people to think that we’re up here acting and feigning the emotions that we write and sing about and show on stage. But one of the things that really make this special in our eyes is that if she and I were in a relationship together, it’d be a totally different act. We would write totally different songs. I don’t think we would be able to go on stage every night and sing ‘I don’t love you.’ I don’t think a healthy relationship could withstand that every single night. There’s areas we can delve into that wouldn’t make sense for somebody that’s till-death-do-us-part. I think there’s also a tension there that wouldn’t be there if it was something that was just rote, something that was an everyday relationship. We try to use that to our advantage.” “Poison & Wine” fits the paradigm of subject matter too true to be spoken, as opposed to sung. “That song probably does sum us up—The Civil Wars, the name of the band—as well as any song that we’ve written,” White says. It’s the one song on the album written with an outside collaborator, their friend Chris Lindsey. “We’re all married, and we were all talking about the good, the bad and the ugly, and just felt like: What would you say to someone if you were actually brutally honest—the things that you could never say because it would turn them away or let the cat out of the bag or reveal yourself to be weaker? What would you actually say if you had this invisible curtain around you and could just scream it in somebody’s face and they’d actually never hear it? We were all being very painfully honest, because we’re all very comfortable around each other and know that things like that never leave the room, except in a song. I’m pretty proud of that song, to be honest.” When “Poison & Wine” was heard in its entirety on Grey’s Anatomy—versus in the background, for a few seconds, as Williams and White had expected—they knew that if the show’s audience liked what they heard, it would put their search skills to the test. The title only pops up in a verse, not the chorus, so it involved some ingenuity or intuition to track the tune down. Fortunately, viewers proved up to the test of finding, and choosing, their “Poison.” At last count, the song’s official YouTube video had been viewed 400,000 times.  >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

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Alternative/Indie/Neo-Folk/Folk/Alt Country/Acoustic
March 3, 2012
© 2012 Sensibility Music
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