Civil Wars Erupts in Knoxville

Not the Civil War – the Civil Wars. Never heard of them? You must be really old. Like maybe twenty-six or seven. Judging from the audience assembled for their performance, the demographic definitely skews young. If that’s the case how does an over-thirty bloggaman find out about them? From his friend’s twenty-something, much-cooler-than-we-are daughter, that’s how. She encouraged her father to catch the 9:00 show at the Pilot Light, but he found that there was a 6:00 show at Disc Exchange, which is much better for aging working men.

The duo, comprised of Joy Williams and John Paul White have enjoyed a couple of very big breaks. First, their song “Poison and Wine,” was featured in its full version on Gray’s Anatomy which resulted in a surge of itunes sales. Next, Taylor Swift called them her “favorite duo” and they were on their way. Their first full length CD, Barton Hollow, just came out and debuted at number twelve on the Billboard Charts and sat at number one on itunes for a week.

I listened to them on itunes and I wasn’t that taken. I could hear the good harmonies, but I didn’t hear enough of the edginess that I like in my music. Their sound definitely tilts in the direction of Americana, with a sort of alternative twist on folk music. At first it hit me as the Peter, Paul and Mary end of the folk spectrum as opposed to the Dylan extreme.

There were probably a hundred or more people gathered at the Disc Exchange for the live WFIV broadcast, which is a pretty big crowd for a space not built for crowds. The couple arrived at showtime and after a brief sound check and an extended guitar tuning adventure (it looked like a very old Martin – maybe a classical model similar to Willie Nelson’s famous guitar), they moved into the music.

Both their mannerisms and their vocal styling is more than a little quirky. In turns belting out harmonies and then, quickly shifting to delicate falsetto harmonies their music virtually demands intense concentration. And they got it. Throughout their set, hardly a stir was heard until the final, often very soft note. They seemed like a warmly genuine young couple (as in a couple in a group, not in a romantic couple – they are each married to someone else), staying in the store to smile for pictures and sign copies of their CD.

I’ll leave you with the video for “Poison and Wine” so you can form your own opinion. Sometimes for reasons I cannot control, blogger does not display video properly. If that happens when you are viewing the video, you can see it properly here.