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Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 02/14/2011

In concert: The Civil Wars at Jammin' Java

By Scott Galupo

civil warsJoy Williams and John Paul White of the Civil Wars keep things simple. (All photos by Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

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.

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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.

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By Scott Galupo  | February 14, 2011; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags:  The Civil Wars  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: In concert: Baths and Braids at Rock & Roll Hotel
Next: On air: Chris Richards talks Grammys on WNYC's "Soundcheck"


The Civil Wars provide an honest - yet rich sound despite sparse instrumentation...the reader would also do well to check-out the DC-area pop-folk trio Deep River ( who will be opening for the Civil Wars in NYC this Friday. You can check out Deep River for free on Thursday evening at the Kennedy Center Millenium Stage this Thursday evening - on the eve of their NYC perfomance...or purchase tickets for their return to Jammin Java in March!

Posted by: flyrodder911 | February 14, 2011 11:13 PM | Report abuse

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