Weekend Listening: Barton Hollow and The Civil Wars by The Civil Wars
Album: Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars
Released: February 1, 2011 by sensibility
Recommended if you like: Folk rock, acoustic guitar, amazing storytelling
Notable Tracks: “I’ve Got This Friend,” “Barton Hollow”
I’m a member of a hymn-singing, keyboard-pounding, fiddle-playing, four-part-harmonizing-on-road trips hillbilly family, so a love of folk music is in my blood. And I thought I’d heard all the cool stuff until a coworker introduced me to The Civil Wars a few years back.
Back in the days when people used to actually buy CDs, you’d get an album, give it a listen, and decide that some of the songs were worth skipping. You will never think this about Barton Hollow (or any of The Civil Wars’ albums). To skip a song is to miss a one-of-a-kind harmony, a hummable melody, or a piece of the story that each album tells.
Barton Hollow begins with a series of love letters written to the person one misses without having met. The tunes are wistful, aching, longing, with line after line expressing the age-old desire to meet that one person who completes you. Halfway through the album our lovers meet, with songs like “Falling” and “Birds of a Feather” depicting a couple in love but unsure how to handle their relationship.
The album ends on a sweet note with the duo’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love,” but it’s clear that there’s trouble in paradise for our (presumably) young couple.
The Civil Wars released only one more album (The Civil Wars, 2013) before announcing their split in 2014, citing “irreconcilable differences of ambition.” To find out what happened to the band, member Joy Williams told the New York Times, fans would have to listen to the album.
The Civil Wars is a continuation of the story began in Barton Hollow, and it is brutal. “The One That Got Away” has the female protagonist lamenting the entire relationship, and “Eavesdrop” depicts a painful tug-of-war: wanting to be free from each other, but also clinging to the hope of what was once good. It’s a sad ending, but a beautiful story.
Add to all this the simple but stunning lyrics, beautiful acoustic melodies, and incredible vocals, and what you’ve got are — in my opinion — two albums that are as close to perfect as you can get.
Extra love goes to “Barton Hollow” (Barton Hollow) and “Devil’s Backbone” (The Civil Wars) for sounding exactly like old-timey folk music should.