The Civil Wars forge musical union

The Civil Wars, comprised of Joy Williams and John Paul White, performs for a packed house in Barefoots Joe, Oct. 22. The band plays their newest song, “Barton Hollow,” the title track of their album to be released Feb. 1. Before performing the piece, Williams described the song as “swampy sounding.” | Photo by Victoria Stargel

By Amanda Parrish

The Civil Wars, a two-person band based out of Nashville, performed in Barefoots Joe, Oct. 22, to uproarious applause from the audience.

The band met on a songwriter “blind date” at what they called a “writing camp” for musicians in Nashville. The sweet and simple vocals of Joy Williams and John Paul White have now formed a dynamic duo for over a year.

“We love to make up stories about how we met,” Williams said in the pre-performance interview. “One involves a Paris circus.”

The band’s first live performance album released as a free download made a big impression. Their debut single, “Poison and Wine,” appeared on “Grey’s Anatomy” and since then, track sales have increased.

Fans traveling from Nashville and Alabama mingled with Jackson locals and Union students at the concert, filling most of the available space. A buzz of anticipation grew as those familiar with the band got more excited and many newly-introduced listeners waited to hear what the hum was all about.

Although the two musicians have an engaging camaraderie on stage, their songs and band name have deeper, emotional meaning.

They said the band’s name does not refer to the “War Between the States.” It is, instead, a reference to the war within oneself and against one’s brothers. It hints at the private battles of addictions and love that are not the “polite and civil” battles seen on the surface. Each song is filled with heart, soul and passion.

In their performance, Williams and White showed an emotional connection with every word. Williams swayed and motioned with her hands, while White’s facial expressions conveyed the music’s intent. Each song, note and strum of the guitar told a personal story.

“All you can do is do what you love,” White said. “That’s the only thing you can control: You loving what you’re writing and praying that lots of other people get it and dig it too.”

Even to the band members, The Civil Wars’ music is indefinable. Blurring the lines between folk, bluegrass and alternative, the music is a blend of genres. Every song is distinct in style, and the lyrics fit together much like puzzle pieces to form an outside-the-box sound.

One song in particular, called “Barton Hollow,” has not yet been released and could only be described in Williams’ own words:

“It’s a little swampy sounding, so I hope you’re OK with that,” she said.

A foot-stomping, bluegrass, classic-folk combination, the song was a mix of styles and lyrics all its own.

Steady as a river, smooth and gentle as a summer breeze, and in perfect harmony, Williams’ and White’s voices were powerful and soothing.

Dry humor from White and a playful attitude from Williams balanced the melodic and melancholy songs of love, hope, home, hell and redemption.

The duo’s performance at Union was met with irrepressible applause, and the band obliged a request to play one final song. Coffee cups in hand, White and Williams closed their successful performance and promised their first full-length album will be released Feb. 1.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.