JAM Magazine Concert Reviews

January 21, 2012
House of Blues - Dallas
Dallas, TX USA
Review by Dadra Walcher
Photos by Barry Bond

The Civil Wars

I'll be honest with you. I just don't get Civil Wars. Yes, the vocal harmonies of Joy Williams and John Paul White blend beautifully together. Yes, these two will probably accomplish more together than they ever could apart. And yeah, these two have a great stage presence that would give Sonny & Cher a run for the money. But again, and I say this with the greatest respect, I just don't get the appeal of this singer / songwriter duo that enables them to sell out venues wherever they go.

For the uninitiated, which I most certainly was, it was literally fate that brought Joy Williams and John Paul White together three years ago. They were both attending a songwriting workshop in Nashville when they were randomly assigned the same room to work together. The moment they started harmonizing their musical creations, an undeniable chemistry developed between them. There connection was solidified when they decided to record a live album from their second performance ever at Eddie's Attic in Decatur, Georgia. In a brilliant marketing move, the pair invited people to download the recording free if they visited the Civil Wars web site. Over 100,000 took them up on the offer.

Tonight's performance was a mixture of songs from that live recording and selections from their official 2012 Grammy-nominated debut album, Barton Hollow. They also performed some interesting interpretations of songs from Michael Jackson ("Beat It"), The Smashing Pumpkins ("Disarm"), the Jackson 5 ("I Want You Back") and Leonard Cohen's classic, "Dance Me to the End of Love." There were no other musicians on stage but these two, and the warm ambiance projected by the performers added to their undeniable musical chemistry.

White's work on the acoustic guitar was impressive. When Williams, a former Christian music star, joined her partner on keyboards, it certainly added another dimension to their sound. These two are married, but not to one another. You'd never know it they way they connected on stage. The playful interplay between these two was so genuine and real, you would have thought they were soul mates in another life. Who knows, maybe they were. However this evening, these two songbirds were in the now as the captivated some 1,600 hearty souls who basked in the duo's glow.

The pair only performed for 65 minutes, which is understandable considering Civil Wars' has one official album to its name. Another problem the duo faced, and it wasn't their fault, was the buzzing bar flies in the back of audience who couldn't stop talking throughout the show. Seriously, why attend a concert of this caliber if all you're going to do is talk incessantly the entire evening. I know this was my first exposure to Joy and Paul, but at times it was difficult to size up the music through all the chatter. Nonetheless, the rich harmonized singing on stage was more than enough to make up for the inconvenience.

The music business if full of 'flavor of the month' acts whose flames burn brightly for awhile, only to flicker out in the end. Though I was admittedly thrown off by this duo, and the incredible reception the capacity crowd greeted them by, the more I think about the evening's performance, I realize the Civil Wars aren't that difficult to understand afterall. Joy Williams and John Paul White presented their music in a very pure and emotional form sans any gimmicks or props. It's the reason they have been nominated for two Grammy's in 2012 and why they have connected with audiences around the country. When you look at all the past musical battles these two have had to conquer to gain a foothold in the business, the love they share for what they're doing today is as genuine and real as you'll ever see from any singer / songwriting partnership.

Whether or not I'll be tempted to attend a future Civil Wars performance remains to be seen. I will say the pair left an indelible impression that left me wondering about them for days. I'm sure some critics will think the addition of a few more musicians on stage will help flesh out the group's sound. Judging from what I saw this night, it may hurt more than help. The rapport White and Williams developed with the crowd was instant, and added to their appeal. Besides, the only two real instruments in the spotlight this evening, the voices, were more than enough to create the necessary moods each song needed to connect with the audience.

This evening's capacity crowd feasted on musical delights that no doubt left them wanting more. What morsels of auditory delight this unlikeliest of duos has in its future remains to be seen. You can rest assure however, the music will find a ready and willing audience eager to gobble it up. There's nothing confusing about that.