Dispatches from Chaos presents…The Civil Wars?!

The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow

A Folksy review by Sean M. Hebner

Exclusively written for

4 “Whosawhatsits” out of 5

Welcome to the first installment of “IT CAME…FROM MY WIFES CD WALLET!” This is a series where I’ll randomly take a CD from my beautiful wife Loretta’s collection and give it an honest listen and review.

I should point out that my wife and I have vastly different tastes in music. This will create the cognitive dissonance required to create a HILARIOUS review. Also, when I try to take an unbiased approach to music, I don’t generally have an emotional attachment to it which helps me become a REAL writer!

However, I’ll admit that this particular review is kind of cheating. I’ve been a fan of Folk and Filk music as long as I can remember. One of the first tapes I ever enjoyed as a child (that wasn’t Weird Al or Elton John) was Bay Filk 3, which was recorded in 1983 and featured a younger Mercedes Lackey (on backing vocals on one song) and an aging Peter S. Beagle (author of “The Llast Unicorn”). My mother owned the tape as it featured my former Cousin MEW (www.mewsic.com). Little did my mom know, that my eventual lust for Power Metal and other Folk infused genres of music would stem almost exclusively from this tape.

I say all this to imply that “Civil Wars” is a Folk album. I happen to like it a lot, thank you. Every spin of this record brings out new, exciting positives. The lyrics are a “joy” (HA GET IT!? This album is depressing!), a great mixture of classically influenced Folk and modern, poetic explorations of poetry. You could probably use some of these lyrics in a poetry class. They’re THAT GOOD. Take their single “Poison and Wine,” for example.

“Poison and Wine”*

I find it rare that a song so bitter and honest gets main stream air play. “Poison and Wine” has been referred to as Country and I can see why: once upon a time, this genre was this depressing:

I don’t love you and I always will

I don’t love you and I always will

I don’t love you and I always will

Editor/Boss-man Eric doesn’t know it yet but I’m going to make him cry again. (Editor/Boss-man Eric: Manliness challenge accepted)

I’ m fairly close to crying as I type this. That’s some lyrical heaviness neither of us has encountered since “The Magnetic Fields.” I’m sure Eric has heard more depressing lyrics, but perhaps not something we’ve been mutually exposed too.

Anyway, “Poison and Wine” starts out with the line “You only know what I want you to/I know everything you don’t want me to” and there is only a grand total of like 50 words to the song …and yet it instantly brings to mind relationships from my past. Specifically, dysfunctional relationships where the words “power balance” didn’t exist and from which the pain long dissipated is temporarily restored by these potent lyrics. Thankfully, they indirectly teach me to never repeat those mistakes and should a legitimately REAL problem arise in my marriage to just frickin’ TALK about it. This paragraph brought to you by Life©, ain’t it somthin’? (Editor/Boss-man Eric: life is the only thing worth living for)

Hope, the only thing left at the bottom of “Pandora’s Box” as a way to combat the evils of the world, feels in short supply on this album. I mean it IS here. However, the duo broke up last year only to reunite to make a new album this year, but they will NOT tour.

It seems that one member wants to get famous and the other wants to be a non-sellout. All the turmoil in the band has me thinking that the hope that’s tucked within this album is more superficial than I realized. For a duo this powerful to give up after existing since only 2008, it’s a wonder that they even lasted this long. I’ve found no information to tell which one wanted to end it and which one wanted to take off …your guess is as good as mine.

I have the sneaking suspicious that Johnny Depp here may have been the culprit.

Not that I like proving my wife wrong about stuff, but while writing this review I told her “wow this is a really ‘hopeless’ album!” Of course, she immediately said “NO ITS NOT!”

The marriage argument game had begun! I countered her witty retort with my own, elucidating that “okay, maybe not ‘hopeless’ but it’s fairly dark…”

Then, I decided to look up the lyrics to the rest of the songs just to see if my instincts on the album were correct. Ammunition is important in this vital arguments, my friend. If you’re married, I know you’re nodding your head in agreement, male or female.

Well anyway, the first track is about a deadbeat father who, after 20 years, won’t claim responsibility for a child from a one night stand. Boom.

The title track “Barton Hallow” is about a man wanted for Murder in…heh, heh…Barton Hallow. He is never going back to the place that was once his home town. Boom boom.

In fact, reading through the lyrics revealed three songs focused on unrequited love, murder, regret, prostitution or just plain loneliness. Mostly Hopeless. Three out of 14 tracks is A LOT of dark….and I LOVED every minute of it.

Heck we can even dabble in cover songs that they did to see if their overall mood as a duo is better when being “casual.” Nope. The Civil Wars covered Portishead’s song “Sour Times” and Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean”, another song about denial of parental responsibility. They are a tour de force of depressing and heartbreaking heartbreakyness.

“My heart, in the parking garage, with the guitar…you win Civil Wars”

What can I conclude about this venture into my wife’s CD wallet? First of all, my wife’s favorite band is freaking awesome. However, I’m not surprised that they aren’t sustainable. Country music fans dip their toe into the depressing aspects of real life, but tend to confine them only to Johnny Cash or Willie or some other old hat star.

A new group that puts out Cash caliber depression doesn’t really work (at least as a business model) in a world of Brad Paisley or Taylor Swifts.

Yeah, Taylor Swift is mad, but she’s adorable, adorably mad with still less issues than one ALBUM from a duo that’s a bit older and a bit worse for wares. Lastly, my wife thinks this band deserves a seven out of five on the “Whosawhatsits” scale. I’m thinking she’s right…this is some of the best stuff if not THE best Main Line Country music…nay Main Stream Music period has produced in the last 5 years. So I’ve changed my original score to match her request because it really is that good.

Tune in next week when I do, some more METAL YEAH! Goodnight!

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About Culture Fusion Reviews

A multi-effort web review periodical of varied cultural landmarks curated by Eric Benac: freelance writer, journalist, artist, musician, comedian, and 30-ish fellow caught in and trying to make sense of the slipstream of reality.

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