Recently, there has been a lot of press about the upcoming album by the mesmerizing duo The Civil Wars. Set to release August 6, The Civil Wars is coming out amidst an indefinite hiatus for the band due to “irreconcilable differences” and tension between Joy and John Paul. The album has been streaming on iTunes this week free, and if you have not had a chance to listen, I would encourage you to pull it up and check it out. It’s personal, relatable, and captivating.
I saw The Civil Wars in concert when I was in college. They came and performed in our campus coffeehouse, and it was a fantastic show. The seemingly effortless connection between Joy and John Paul, the harmonies felt in your soul, and the stories told in their songs made quite the impression on every single concert attender that night. Since that first exposure, Barton Hollow, the duo’s debut album, has been one that I listen to often. Being a fan of their talent, I was devastated to hear that their European tour was cancelled last fall due to these differences. I wondered what happened, if they’d be able to work things out, and if they’d make anymore music together. There was a long silence, until just recently.
The official announcement, the title track playing on the radio, and a few interviews surfacing on the Web told me The Civil Wars are back . . . but not really back. In an interview with The Associated Press, Joy opens up without going into much detail. She is honest, acknowledging that fans should know what happened, yet holding back enough to respect their privacy. There’s been a good deal of speculation regarding the content of the newest album, ranging from curiosities about the billowing smoke cover to the release of the single “The One That Got Away.”
What are Joy and John Paul trying to do with this album, and how can we see it clearly?
The first single could be read as a personal wish for the state of The Civil Wars. It makes me wonder: Do they feel regret for where they are now? Have the differences pulled them so far apart that all they feel is bitterness toward each other? What if it is something entirely different? We know that there’s been and remains tension between them; their pain has given rise to an incredible collection of stories, touching individuals they’ve never met. The truth about great music is that in any season, in any moment, it can relate to us in a timeless fashion. I listen to this song, and I can’t help but think about the individuals I wish I had never met, as difficult as that may be for me to say. If the song were only about Joy and John Paul, then we’re left out and the song means nothing to us. The song, however, is meant to mean something to us, and we should listen to it intending to join in.
My favorite song on the new release is “Dust to Dust.” In some way, it tells of the honest vulnerability expressed between two people on both sides of a relationship. Our lives are not forever hidden, as much as we would like them to be. There comes a point in our relationships when we must acknowledge whatever loneliness or fear we may be hiding and let the other person close, let them “in the wall” of protection we’ve built around ourselves. I’ve been there. It can be risky, it can hurt, but it can be just what we need.
Although we don’t know the what or the why for the walls of protection that have blocked Joy and John Paul, what we do know is that they have gone through a difficult season relationally. We can fall too quickly into reading more into the songs than these songwriters intended. There is a certain amount of vagueness expressed and empathy felt that connects the listener to the artist. Joy and John Paul have done this exceptionally well for us.
But the songs on this album do detail the very real risk, hurt, and tension felt between Joy and John Paul, and their songs give voice to the stories in my life, even though our experiences are nothing the same. The reality of their lives, with all of the complexities, struggles, and hardships that come, allow for a finished product that connects to and captivates listeners.
The newest album is nothing short of mesmerizing. It conveys longing, loss, anger, regret, sweetness and sadness—all the things that make living life so very real for all of us.