Civil Wars' Rough Ride To 'Barton Hollow'
Published: Thursday, February 3, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
Joy Williams has steadily established herself as one of the most marketable and successful country artists of the past decade. Though Williams is still under the age of 30, her characteristically Southern music has proliferated throughout the nation, with past tracks topping Christian radio charts. Though not a major national figure, Williams has found her place among a supportive niche of the American music market.
With the release of Barton Hollow, on which Williams collaborates with singer John Paul White under the moniker The Civil Wars, Williams adds male harmony to her already established sound. Exemplifying a brand of collaboration common by country artists, The Civil Wars have created an album that further asserts Williams vocal and melodic prowess.
Opening with the simple and pastoral "20 Years," Barton Hollow instantly reveals its unique and simple aesthetic. With soft strings and minimal, harmonic country melodies, the track provides a very clear idea of the experience that this album will provide. The transition into "I've Got this Friend" is thus seamless, and the whispered and natural vocals flow steadily from song to song.
This pattern continues throughout the first six songs of the album. These early tracks leave the listener desiring something more – something to break the established pattern of the album. Half-highlighted in the memory if only for their indistinct, collective haze, Barton Hollow's songs almost blend together like landmarks sighted while softly flowing down a lazy river on a sleepy, Southern Sunday morning. Consistency thus established, one finds little to critique yet little in which to delight.
Standing out from the subtle stream that characterizes many of the album's other tracks, "Barton Hollow" injects a bit of human life into the album's pastoral simplicity. A toe-tapping saloon tune, "Barton Hollow" is in many ways antithetical to the album's overall aesthetic. Though uncharacteristic of the band's linearly established sound and perhaps an odd choice for a title track, "Barton Hollow" sparks a bit of life into an album so desperately seeking to escape its laid-back continuity.
"Barton Hollow" is followed by "The Violet Hour," which provides a return to the album's established sound. Oddly impressionistic, this instrumental track is a highly appropriate response to the rebellion of "Barton Hollow." As we reflect in the serenity of its Debussy-esque flow, we peer into the true heart of the album, its tracks laid out under the pensive moonlight the song spreads out. Viewing "The Violet Hour" as a response to "Barton Hollow" thus allows us to gain a true sense of the album's meaning. The peculiar disorientation we experience when listening to "Barton Hollow" is not coincidental; we are removed from the immutable flow of the album so we may experience the very sense of rebellion that The Civil Wars have embedded within the title track. The song "Barton Hollow" captures the fleeting instant in which we escape the comfort of our home – our Southern, summer stream – and experience the ecstasy of ebulliency. It is the earthly incitation of a transcendent state of vitality which we find in rebellion and escape.
As the album recedes back into its characteristic melody, the sublimity of the rebelliousness of"Barton Hollow's" resonates. As "Falling" plays, we instantly hear a melodic sorrow coming through the song's lyrics and melody. Although this despair is unavoidable, "Falling" does not ask for our sympathies. Quite the contrary, the song seems to be an impetus by which the singer is overcoming her struggles. The song is about falling out of love, but this lost love is overcome, not lamented. "I've got to let you go / I can't help falling out of love with you." This feeling of contentment carries throughout the final songs of the album, and allows it to close with a sense of solemnity.
Although "Barton Hollow" is best suited for the same country audience that has supported Williams throughout her career, it is a worthy effort that should add new fans to her supportive base.