The Austin Chronicle

Phases & Stages

Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, September 6, 2013, Music

The Civil Wars

(Sensibility Music/Columbia)

Barton Hollow, the Civil Wars' 2011 debut, garnered such unexpected success that the follow-up arrives with all kinds of drama. "Irreconcilable differences of ambition" now put the Nashville duo on indefinite hiatus, it turns out. It's through that lens with which one must hear their eponymous sophomore LP. While there are hints at what's going on with singer-songwriters Joy Williams and John Paul White, their Americana-meets-American Idol overkill makes repeated plays increasingly painful. Williams' voice dominates throughout, although White exerts his power on the ominous "I Had Me a Girl." They make an egregious error with "Tell Mama," best belted by Etta James. It's reimagined as a folk ballad that takes the song's might and sprinkles it with Williams' cloying fairy dust. Ultimately, The Civil Wars plays out lyrically insipid and completely oblivious to the fact that their vocals strive for meaningful but define overbearing.


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