In concert: The Civil Wars at Jammin' Java
As the implosion and reinvention of the music industry churns on, nothing beats old-fashioned, word-of-mouth buzz. A full-length appearance of a song on TV's "Grey's Anatomy" doesn't hurt, either.
In any case, the word is definitely out on grassroots folk-pop duo Civil Wars, who played before a sold-out Jammin' Java Saturday night and, earlier this month, notched a No. 1 iTunes album download with their debut LP, "Barton Hollow."
Singer Joy Williams and singer-guitarist John Paul White aren't hitched, but they sure cut an electric figure onstage. Both were dressed formally - she in black velvet, he in suit and bow tie - and often huddled together, spontaneously swaying in time to their sinuous music.
The Nashville-based duo keeps things charmingly simple: an acoustic guitar, some spartan piano and concertina, and the occasional percussive foot-stomp.
But floating atop this deceptively spare instrumentation were agile melodies and shimmering harmony vocals - utterly mesmerizing and with more than a hint of the English folk-ballad tradition and the sophistication of Leonard Cohen.
White deftly switched from pick to fingerstyle guitar, and he seemed particularly to enjoy the waltz time signature. On the pulsating title track "Barton Hollow," he played a dark-sounding resonator guitar.
The softness of Williams's soprano counterbalanced White's Americana grit. On the melancholy "Falling," she made a breakup - "I can't help falling out of love with you" - sound like the sweetest dream. When they traded lines, as on "Birds of a Feather," it was like a perfect vocal cocktail.
Their seemingly oddball rendition of the traditionally chipper "You Are My Sunshine" exposed the standard's lyrics for what they are: incredibly depressing.
The audience was reverently hushed for much of Civil Wars' set. But Williams and White broke the ice with an out-of-left-field coffeehouse cover: Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean."
Even on a lonely acoustic guitar, the groove was irrepressible.
| February 14, 2011; 12:30 PM ET
Categories: In concert | Tags: The Civil Wars
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