The Civil Wars
The Civil Wars
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.