coun­try

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Polly Coufos

The Civil Wars

The Civil Wars

Columbia/Sony

★★★★

IF there were any lin­ger­ing fears that US duo the Civil Wars were merely hip­sters slum­ming it in Nashville, they are dis­pelled by ev­ery track on their sec­ond al­bum. With pro­ducer Char­lie Pea­cock back on board, Joy Wil­liams and John Paul White have cre­ated a mas­ter­piece that shows an in­ti­mate knowl­edge of what makes the best coun­try mu­sic so vi­brant and time­less. It fea­tures a dozen per­for­mances in which they dive into songs filled with gothic im­agery, sub­tle ar­range­ments and un­for­get­table cho­ruses. It is an in­tense, of­ten claus­tro­pho­bic sit­u­a­tion where their voices sit amid the small band that in­cludes vet­er­ans Dan Dug­more on steel and Jerry Dou­glas on do­bro. Many songs are duets, with the pair trad­ing lines, al­ways serv­ing the song and the drama con­tained within. They are able to in­cor­po­rate the Smash­ing Pump­kins’ Dis­arm into their plan, even match­ing Billy Cor­gan for mis­er­able­ness as their vo­cals death dance on the melody played by Andy Leftwich’s man­dolin. It is so much a cover as a reinvention, and the re­sults are star­tling. Even more so is their gen­tle, aching take on the Etta James’s sassy stan­dard Tell Mama that marks Wil­liams as a sto­ry­teller ap­proach­ing the cal­i­bre of coun­try mu­sic’s great­est in­ter­preters. Sex­ual ten­sion oozes out of Dust to Dust, which also demon­strates how well Wil­liams’ and White’s voices com­ple­ment each other. Oh Henry looks at a re­la­tion­ship marred by the sus­pi­cion of ex­tra­mar­i­tal sex, where the whole thing hangs on an omi­nous threat, ‘‘ Don’t you know that we don’t need / One more grave in this town?’’, de­liv­ered by Wil­liams with great rel­ish. Like the rest of the al­bum it is dark, scary, funny and ir­re­sistible.

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