Monday, August 26, 2013

Music Monday: The Civil Wars

In a fitting atmosphere of drama and angst, The Civil Wars highly-anticipated sophomore album, The Civil Wars, hit the airwaves this month.  I was hoping to be half as enthralled with this album as I had been with their first full-length recording, Barton Hollow.  The retention of the soulful, talented, and renowned Charlie Peacock as producer, led me to expect a similar offering. 

At the risk of alienating die hard fans (of which I was one of the first!), I'm sorry to say I am singularly disappointed.  After streaming the album in its entirety several times over the span of a couple weeks (to give it time to grow on me), I have no intention of purchasing this recording. 
I wonder if I had been given the opportunity to hear it apart from the context of relational drama between the duo, if I would have heard things differently.  I don't think I would.  The elements that I found so compelling on Barton Hollow are simply missing.  I've attempted to quantify and articulate what has been lost from then until now:
1.  JOY - Barton Hollow's tunes and lyrics were often serious and weighty, yet the album exuded joy, playfulness, and an energy that seems entirely absent from the latest offering.  From This Valley is one of my favorite of their live performances, but even that track is lackluster.  Listen to this live performance, then gauge it against the recorded version. 
2.  PURITY - John and Joy's scaled-back acoustic sound has been replaced by synthesizers, whining electric guitar, and track 4 (Dust to Dust) has a distinct musak quality that completely negates the potential power of the lyrics.  Both John and Joy's vocal capabilities are masked by the over-wrought, over-produced instrumentation.  Compare that sound to this stripped-down version of the first song they wrote together (and the one that was the catalyst for my falling in love with their music):

3.  HONESTY - This album is almost absurdly angst-ridden.  The first had a raw honesty in the lyrics and even in the emotionally-compelling, pleading vocals, but this one drips with what feels like false, staged, overly-intentional, affected emotion.   Joy's voice dominates and is a primary factor in the "join us in our misery" feeling.   Two people who are not even speaking to one another cannot...CANNOT...make exceptional music together.
I don't know whether their separation from one another is the result of a petty squabble or legitimate irreconcilable differences.  Joy is quick to talk publicly about the silence between them in seemingly honest, yet measured, ways...which could result from authenticity OR from a desire to capitalize on the drama to boost curiosity, publicity, and sales.  Meanwhile, John Paul appears to be lurking reluctantly in the shadows...either remaining wisely quiet about the dispute OR else indulging in a hearty pout.  I don't know.  All I DO know is that the breaking of their relationship has affected more than the two of them personally.  Part of their appeal was the chemistry between them which undoubtedly contributed to their musical cohesiveness.  The rift distorted their creativity, despite Joy's belief that it produced it, and I can tell you that at least one fan and hearty proponent feels the loss.

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