Things were looking good for The Civil Wars: they’d picked up two Grammys, seen their debut album go gold, and won a legion of fans the world over. And then, suddenly, it all stopped. In November 2012 the genre-blending duo cancelled all forthcoming tour dates without warning, and the band went on hiatus citing “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition.” Kind of ironic for a band named The Civil Wars. The music world waited with baited breath to see what would happen next...
Fast forward nine months and here we are. It seems those differences were not quite as irreconcilable as first thought, and the band are back with a new self-titled album in tow. Raw and emotional, it’s a stunning record that avoids all the pitfalls of the ‘difficult second album’ and builds upon the strengths of their debut.
The Civil Wars opens with a bittersweet blues number that sees Joy Williams lament, “I wish you were the one that got away.” The rumours that this is directed at bandmate John Paul White are as yet unconfirmed, but it’s an undeniable fact that emotions run high on this and all songs on the album: a raw, powerful journey through blues, country, Americana and folk.
What follows is an exceptional record; at times subtle and tender, at others foot-stompingly upbeat, it is quite simply a joy to listen to. I Had Me A Girl and Oh Henry replicate the barnstorming fun of their debut’s Barton Hollow, while From This Valley and French-speaking ballad Sacred Heart showcase the band’s delicate side. As always, Williams and White’s harmonies hit that magical sweet spot, perfectly pitched in every way. The instrumentation, too, is glorious with beautifully picked guitars and lap-steels, luxurious strings and the odd moment of bluesy electric guitar.
The Civil Wars may well have gone through hell and high water to record their second album. Despite their differences, however, they have crafted an album of resonant beauty; a body of work laced with the emotion of two talented, impassioned musicians. From a listener’s point of view, the struggle was more than worth it.
The Civil Wars by The Civil Wars is out now via Sensibility Recordings.