I’m a sucker for simple music. Whether it’s a stripped-down blues rock trio or a raw singer-songwriter recording songs in his basement with his acoustic guitar, there’s something about music with limited instrumentation that I just love. Maybe it’s because most of the music I listen to is highly produced and heavily layered and simple stuff is a nice change of pace. I don’t know.
Whatever the reason, I’m drawn to simple songs, and that’s why I was drawn to Barton Hollow, the full-length debut album from The Civil Wars. It’s a simple acoustic project from solo artists John Paul White and Joy Williams, reminiscent of the work of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová featured in the motion picture Once.
However, while the aural flavors are similar, this is not the same dish. The instrumentation may not be as creative, but I’ll take White and Williams as a vocal pair over Hansard and Irglová any day. The production is much more crisp as well – which, depending on who you talk to, could be a good thing or a bad thing. In my mind, it’s a good thing. Barton Hollow is an airy, beautiful indie-folk album, and, while the sound is nothing new, the execution is wonderful. White and Williams work very well together as vocalists, and the guitar work is gorgeous.
My biggest complaint against the album is that there isn’t a whole lot of variation between the songs. When I listen, I’m really engaged with the music for the first five or six songs, but eventually, they start running together and I don’t really notice when new songs begin. It’s a shame, too – the bonus track “I Want You Back” is the kind of soft love song that leaves you at a loss for superlatives. A lot of times I’ll miss it when it comes on and skip back so I can hear the whole thing. The title track, “Barton Hollow,” is a nice, energetic bluegrass song appropriately placed in the middle of all the other tracks, but it is unfortunately not enough to break up the similar tempo of all the other songs.
All things considered, this is an album I will listen to many more times. It’s a very pleasant, easy listen, and one of the better acoustic projects out there. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.