Color Me Obsessed

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I'm lucky enough to work with my musical soulmate.  When Rob Entsminger says, "Listen to this" followed by a link, I'm 99.7 percent sure I'm going to be smitten.  After catching The Civil Wars at Unplugged in the Park back in October, he messaged me the next day with the duo's video for "Poison & Wine", which I proceeded to listen to on repeat for the next three or four hours.  I hopped from video to video after that based on YouTube's handy recommendations of other performances. By the end of the day, I was a fan. 

The Civil Wars met through a quite literal eHarmony - a Nashville singer/songwriter service that matches collaborators.  Both John Paul White and Joy Williams tried to ditch the first meeting, but, lucky for us, neither had a bonafide excuse.  And when they met, they discovered an other-worldly connection as though they'd known each other a lifetime.

When I heard that The Civil Wars would be making a visit to Athens to play The Melting Point, I made plans to be there by corralling my good friend and features reporter Joe VanHoose into covering the show.  It came just a week after The Civil Wars' debut full-length album Barton Hollow soared to the top of the iTunes chart.

In concert, The Civil Wars are every bit as stripped down and haunting as they are on recordings.  There is no overwrought instrumentation or backup band.  Their performance is comprised of nothing more than White's collection of guitars, Williams's occasional stint at the piano, and the best instruments they've got - their perfectly matched voices.  People often mistake them for a married couple - and they are married, just not to each other - but the mistake is easy to understand once drawn into the intimate circle of their voices matching bravado and mixing low throaty notes and contrasting Williams's sweet, clear, rich voice with White's gravelly baritone.  And their performance is both musical and an embodiment of what they sing - alternately assuming impassioned lovers, the broken-hearted and sad longing.  Interspersed with ballads and lullabies were quiet jabs spoken to each other in jest and amazed delight by these newly minted superstars.  Their astonishment at hearing the audience sing along with them was genuine, and it's rare that you get to see a band that's on the first leg of their meteoric rise to fame.

There's a vintage quality to Barton Hollow.  The Civil Wars almost feel like two souls from that time period telling their stories through the plucked guitar strings and the haunting, melancholy voices of Williams and White.  You really believe the title track that no preacher man can save their souls - that wailing ache in their voices - and that the desperate plea in "Fallen" to know that love is over is in earnest.  And "Forget Me Not" is a plaintive duet that seems like it should be listened to over a grainy radio connection in the 1930s.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I've been listening to Barton Hollow nonstop since it arrived in my mailbox.  (Yes, I still buy real CDs.)  And if you're a friend who has music taste similar to mine at all, I've urged you to download their free live performance at Eddie's Attic from their MySpace page.  And if you live in a city where they're touring, I've sent you the link and instructed you to buy tickets.  So I thought it only fitting that I take my message to the masses and blog about my Civil War obsession.

If you're still on the fence, please note they do a killer cover of "Billie Jean" as an encore. What more could you possibly need to convince you?


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