Acoustic folk duo The Civil Wars have returned with their highly anticipated, self-titled follow-up to breakthrough album, ‘Barton Hollow’. It’s a release that has a lot to live up to, not just because of the success of the prior record, but because it’s the first release since Joy Williams and John Paul White have returned from hiatus citing irreconcilable differences. Thankfully, they have returned and have really developed their sound. However, this development has shifted them perhaps too far away from The Civil Wars that stormed to the top back in 2011.
Album opener, ‘The One That Got Away’, demonstrates the band’s new sound. It’s instantly more powerful instrumentally, which allows Williams to really push her vocal performance further, which is also shown on the final chorus of later track, ‘Oh, Henry’. Calm and quiet numbers, such as ‘Disarm’ and ‘Dust To Dust’, echo The Civil Wars from their previous records, allowing their lyrics and vocal skill to take focus.
Tracks such as ‘Tell Mama’ and ‘Devil’s Backbone’ point the listener in the new direction this band is taking, which seems to have Williams taking lead vocals and White acting as a backing vocalist occasionally providing harmonies. Whilst this still makes for some amazing performances, it feels like a waste of the talent this band has at their disposal, as White delivers some fantastic performances when he takes centre stage on verses of ‘I Had Me A Girl’. When this duo do sing together as they used to on their older releases, it shows these two at their finest, confirmed by an acapella run on ‘From This Valley’.
Overall, this record has some real strengths, being more instrumentally commanding and allowing the singers to deliver more powerful vocal performances, which really lets The Civil Wars branch out from the calm, stripped down base they had. The issue is whether this shift is squandering some of the talent this band has; the under-use of John Paul White‘s voice is noticeable across this record and, whilst still being a great release, it could have been so much more. Whilst it’s great to have this band back on the music scene, they just don’t seem to be the same band that left us.
Written by Jonathon Barlow