Thursday 18 January 2018

Country's 'couple' put aside their woes

Partnership: Joy Williams and John Paul White bicker like an old married couple
Partnership: Joy Williams and John Paul White bicker like an old married couple
Eamon Sweeney

Eamon Sweeney

Big release of the week: The civil wars (Columbia) 3 STARS

Last November, it seemed that we mightn't be hearing from the Grammy- winning duo The Civil Wars for quite some time.

Joy Williams and John Paul White cited "internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambitions" for cancelling their remaining tour dates. They also offered fans an opportunity to email details of travel reservations, promising that they'd do their best to reimburse genuine claims.

Maybe The Civil Wars like to fallow in first world problems, as their second album was reportedly recorded "amidst a grueling touring schedule, exhausting workload and a growing disconnect from their families."

Williams and White pull off the feat of appearing like a real life couple, even though they're both happily married to other partners.

Their self-titled second album sounds like a series of goodbyes and separation songs with a darker and starker shift away from the pop country that saw them bag a Grammy, ascend the album charts and collaborate with Taylor Swift on The Hunger Games.

There's an intimacy at play that wasn't previously as pronounced. Producer Charlie Peacock, who was at the helm for their record-breaking debut Barton Hollow, is also on board as a co-writer. Rick Rubin, who steered the late Johnny Cash's glittering late career, produces I Had Me A Girl.

From This Valley is in a more traditional vein to their chart conquering sound. They throw a beautiful spanner in the works with an unexpected cover of Disarm by Smashing Pumpkins, which nails the rare trick of creating a version superior to the original while making it all sound deceptively easy.

Williams and White have already staked a claim as superb interpreters, with renditions of Leonard Cohen's Dance Me To The End of Love and Michael Jackson's Billie Jean.

As for the flaws, as beautifully written, arranged, sung, played, produced and executed as all this is, there's a sore lack of X Factor sparkle – precious little to suggest that they're anything more than just an interesting sales phenomenon and a quirky example of country music gate-crashing the mainstream.

While the proceedings are a little too smooth and safe, there is an understated sense of confident assurance to this album that suggests they'll be around for a long time yet. For the moment, this will satiate the faithful, but not much more.

KEY TRACKS Disarm, The One That Got Away, I Had Me a Girl

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