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Allow me to be blunt -- I’m borderline obsessed with The Civil Wars. The boy/girl duo made up of Joy Williams and John Paul White uses simple melodies to blend folk, country and baroque pop, which are completely and heartbreakingly gorgeous.
In recent months, The Civil Wars have raised their profile several-fold, opening for Adele, playing tons of late night shows, and just last week, scoring not one but two Grammy nominations. Not to be That Girl or anything but I’ve been on to The Civil Wars for some time now, since I (almost literally) stumbled on them at South By Southwest. It was boiling hot out and I was getting woozy, so a friend and I popped into a bar for some “refreshments.” (You and I both know that beer is just as rehydrating as water). As the bartender handed us our drinks, I heard a tune trickling in from the other side of the venue. My friend and I decided to go check it out and there stood The Civil Wars, decked in their signature look of head-to-toe black. It was one of those origin-legends you hear all the time about experiencing a band for the first time -- a powerful, intimate show in a dingy bar back room. So who the hell are these guys, you ask? Both solo artists at the time, Williams and White met in 2008 when they were each called to a Nashville music studio for a songwriting session. Proverbial songwriting sparks flew and soon after, their performances were generating a massive amount of buzz in an already musical-phenom saturated town.
The tipping point out of obscurity for a lot of bands is an appearance in a commercial or, okay, a medical drama. In 2009, "Grey’s Anatomy" used their soul-crushing “Poison & Wine” to extra poignant effect (sample lyric: "I don't love you, but I always will"), and many, many bookings soon followed. In short order, The Civil Wars played "The Tonight Show," got written up in the L.A. Times, and their single, "Barton Hollow," was selected as iTunes download of the week. So, what are you going to love about them when you hear them for the first time, like I did? As cheesy as this sounds, it’s chemistry. When Joy and John sing, their eyes engage and their connection is undeniable. Despite the fact that they aren't together (she's married), there's a romantic sweetness that's so universal, it's impossible not to feel in a personal way.
Start out with "Poison and Wine" or “Forget Me Not,” whose simple folky lilt coincides perfectly with the clear and honest lyrics: “Tell me that you'll always be true/And you'll be the only one for me/Forget me not my dear, my darling/Forget me not my love/I just wanna hold your hand.” Oy.
It's spare, beautiful music that proves once again that sometimes the simplest stuff is the best stuff.