'The Civil Wars' review: Real, pretty sophomore album from duo on hiatus

The self-titled release by The Civil Wars. The self-titled release by The Civil Wars. Photo Credit: AP

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REVIEW

This was supposed to be The Civil Wars' big break. Instead, it's probably their big breakup.

The thrown-together alt-country duo of rocker John Paul White and Christian music solo artist Joy Williams seemed poised for superstardom with their sophomore album, "The Civil Wars" (Sensibility/ Columbia), following "Barton Hollow," an impressive, but safe, debut that yielded two Grammys, high-profile support from Adele and a collaboration with Taylor Swift.

However, all that work ground to a halt in November, when the duo split in the midst of a European tour due to "internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition." They are technically "on hiatus," even as the album is released, because they are not on speaking terms.

So how does that play out on the album? "I wish I'd never ever seen your face," they sing in hushed harmony on "The One That Got Away." "Wish you were the one that got away."

On "Same Old, Same Old," White declares, "I wanna leave you. I wanna lose us. I wanna give up. But I won't." Eventually, on the wrenching, spare folk ballad, they harmonize on the lines "If you think that I can stay in this same old, same old. . . . Well, I don't."

It doesn't get realer than that. For their cover of the Smashing Pumpkins' "Disarm," White and Williams strip away the original's grandeur and focus on the pain, sounding utterly broken as they try to fit their voices together.

For The Civil Wars to ever recover from that kind of anger, they need to focus on their own reconstruction, not music.

"The Civil Wars"

THE GRADE B+

BOTTOM LINE Wars rarely sound this pretty

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