Album Review: Barton Hollow (The Civil Wars)

I'm a little behind on The Civil Wars love. I finally downloaded their album on iTunes earlier this week. I've been putting it off for a couple reasons. One, I'm a huge Joy Williams fan. And selfishly, I just wanted to hear HER sing; not some Johnny Depp look-a-like that apparently made up the other half of the Civil Wars duo (his name is John Paul White, by the way). Secondly, I just never got around to it. So here I am now, a Barton Hollow album owner. What have I to say?

1) 20 years - This starts out with a guitar/mandolin picking out an Irish-sounding melody on the strings. As is the case for most of the songs on this album, the story is what gives the song it's personal feel. Apparently inspired by a 20 year old secret in Joy's family, the song leaves us with more questions than answers. "There's a note underneath your front door, that I wrote 20 years ago, yellow paper and a faded picture, and a secret in an envelope." In the entire three minutes of the song, we never find out what that secret is.

2) I've Got This Friend - We all have those single friends that we are wanting to set up with someone. We think we're being nonchalant by saying, "Hey, you know... I've got this friend." That's basically the premise of this song. It begins with vocals from John singing the first verse, "I've got this friend, I don't think you know him..." and then they join together in a beautiful harmonious chorus singing, "If the right one came, if the right one came along." To which Joy echoes in the second verse, "I've got this friend, I don't think you know her..." And here we have our first matchmaking love song. :)

3) C'est la mort - This is a hauntingly, beautiful song. The perfect combination of piano and guitar to the melody of two raw vocals. I love it. The meaning of C'est la mort, you are wondering? Such is death. My only complaint is that it ends too soon.

4) To Whom it May Concern - The beauty of this album is in it's raw, acoustic feel. This song is one of the few that also includes string accompaniment, yet it still manages to keep the feeling of an intimate setting. The lyrics are beautiful, "I'm slowly counting down the days, til I finally know your name... I missed you but I haven't met you, oh but I want to." I have a feeling this album is going to greatly appeal to those who are still waiting on the love of their lives to come along.

5) Poison and Wine - This is the first song I heard on the album. And I have to admit that while this is definitely a beautiful song, and probably my favorite, musically, on the album... the music video disturbs me. *Rabbit-trail warning* I just can't get past the fact that both Joy and John are married - to other people - and singing so passionately to each other. I mean, call me prude, but I don't know how you can sing love songs to another man and not begin to feel something. This song makes me feel something just listening to it. So, I don't know what else to say... but, maybe they're just good actors.

6) My Father's Father - It's been awhile sing I've heard good folk music. It's hard to review some of these songs, because there is so much more than just simple verses and choruses. And even the music is never quite the same throughout. I will comment on their harmonies here though, they are perfect. I love how they will sing in unison at times, and then add a harmony on the last word of the sentence. This is a soft, beautiful folk cry.

7) Barton Hollow - The title track definitely brings something different to the album thus far. Driven by several acoustic guitars and a kick drum. It reminds me of an African American spiritual.

8) The Violet Hour - The only instrumental track on the album. Piano, acoustic guitar and strings. A gorgeous melody throughout. One of the best attributes of The Civil Wars is their ability to write music outside of the predictable I-IV-V-vi chord progression.

9) Girl With the Red Balloon - "She's the one you let in out of the cold. The one whose always and never alone. Did she let him go, or did the four winds blow him away? Does she even know she's the girl with the red balloon?" I'm still attempting to interpret these lyrics. I'm gathering a parallel between letting love get away and a balloon, but why does it have to be red? Don't you just love music that makes you think? Ha. The great thing about this song, is you can enjoy the music without even knowing what the lyrics mean. :)

10) Falling - Joy's vocals are beautiful on this love song. I mean, non-love song, or whatever you'd call it. The lyrics are actually the opposite of your typical love song, "Please tell me you know, I've got to let you go. I can't help falling out of love with you." I believe them when their singing this. That's what scares me.

11) Forget Me Not - I can't help but think about Johnny Cash and June Carter when listening to this. Next please.

12) Birds of a Feather - This features an electric guitar in the background, which is quite different than most of the tracks on the album. One of the more rock/folk sounding tracks, if that is even a possible combination. The lyrics allude to two childrens riddles, "Humpty Dumpty" in "all the king's horses, and all of his men, couldn't tear us apart" and a hint at "Ring around the Rosey" with the inclusion of "ashes, ashes" at the end of the song.

Note: Bonus tracks not included in the review.

Family Friendly Rating: 3. For a slight mention of alcohol (“wine”), the devil and romantic elements.

(1 – very friendly; 10 – mature)