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The Civil Wars

One conjures up a Southern boogie-type group before one discovers the delicate delights of rootsy country-folksters The CIVIL WARS. Hailing from east Nashville, Tennessee, the dedicated duo have had a long and dusty drive to the top of the album charts, despite being touted as an overnight sensation in some of the tabloids.
Formed in February 2009, singer-songwriters/musicians Joy Williams and John Paul White were going nowhere fast, as their solo work was on the verge of petering out, when they met the previous year at “writer’s camp” in Nashville. JONES had just delivered his own low-key solo set, THE LONG GOODBYE (2008) {*6}, while his musical partner-to-be JOY WILLIAMS was throwing Christian curveballs courtesy of a triumvirate of albums, `Joy Williams’ (2001), `By Surprise’ (2002) and 2005’s `Genesis’), a few of which saw her nominated numerous times for the prestigious Dove Award.
With folk-pop on the rise, and country-rock always a certainty to find an audience in the heart of America (and beyond), The CIVIL WARS mounted their acoustic assaults via freebie website downloads. A performance at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Georgia (recorded on April 8, 2009) created a something of stir when it reached six-figure returns on the internet. An avid fan from the get-go, jazz-pop instrumentalist Charlie Peacock (who’d previously worked with SWITCHFOOT), offered up his services to produce `Poison & Wine’, soon-to-be utilised on an episode of TV medical drama, Grey’s Anatomy.
By February 2011, the duo were ready to unleash their debut album proper, BARTON HOLLOW {*8}. Buoyed by subsequent performances on a host of night-time talk-shows and a Sundance Film Festival appearance, the chart-topping digital set also cracked Billboard’s Top 10. Although not romantically involved with each other (i.e. Joy had married Nate Yetton in 2004), the dulcet tones of the duo could be a tad misleading as their melodious chemistry combined well. Reminiscent of The SWELL SEASON boy/girl duo, one could easily fall in love with several of the songs on show here; `20 Years’, `I’ve Got This Friend’, the feisty EXTREME-esque title track, `Falling’ and `Girl With The Red Balloon’, all cherry-picked with great difficulty, while the exquisite instrumental `The Violet Hour’ had heartache in spades.
A major signing to Columbia/Sony was inevitable and, when the Grammy-winning duo performed a handful of covers live at Hollywood’s Amoeba Records store that June (released the following spring), they were certainly making their mark among the country-folk crowd; incidentally, they were so far responsible for renditions of MICHAEL JACKSON’s `Billie Jean’, LEONARD COHEN’s `Dance Me To The End Of Love’, The JACKSONS’ `I Want You Back’, Davis & Mitchell’s `You Are My Sunshine’, SADE’s `No Ordinary Love’ and one for the next album pot: `Disarm’ (SMASHING PUMPKINS). For connoisseurs of soundtrack music, The CIVIL WARS & T BONE BURNETT were behind several of the tracks on the OST for 2013’s “A Place At The Table”.
Described as alternative folk or country-blues, sophomore set THE CIVIL WARS (2013) {*8} scaled the charts, while in Britain, opera-poppers Richard and Adam had kept them off the top spot. Opening with `The One That Got Away’, Joy and John search for long-lost souls in love’s desert-bowl of time, while they mimic STEVE EARLE on `I Had Me A Girl’. Hankies at the ready, Joy oozed sentimentality on `Dust To Dust’, `Eavesdrop’, `Sacred Heart’ and `Tell Mama’. For lovers of the blues – in a lighter fashion – `Devil’s Backbone’ and `Oh Henry’, should soak up the harder edges of a set that crossed borders and the boundaries of rock and roots.
With The CIVIL WARS splitting on the back of four Grammy awards in 2014, JOY WILLIAMS was almost immediately back in the saddle for her “comeback” solo set, `Venus’ (2015).
© MCS Aug2013-Jun2015

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