‘The Civil Wars’ By The Civil Wars Album Review

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The Civil Wars release, what could be their last album. The album is a beautiful collection of organic arrangements, radiant vocals and heart-rending lyrics. It’s the perfect ‘break-up’ album.

I first discovered this duo when their song If I Didn’t Know Better was featured on the pilot episode of the US TV show Nashville. They also sang alongside Taylor Swift in the beautiful soundtrack song Safe & Sound for the successful film The Hunger Games. I was captivated by their harmonies, the smooth and eloquent melodies and the passion-filled lyrics.

The Civil Wars are currently on hiatus, there is a large uncertainty that they will never get back together but nevertheless they release their beautiful self-titled second album. If you are looking for an album to dance around your room to, you are in the wrong place. This album is a perfect soundtrack to your tears, a soothing collection of tracks that will make your heart ache.

After connecting in a Music City recording studio writing camp back in 2008, Joy Williams and John Paul White created The Civil Wars and worked their way up the Nashville scene. Their Gold-certified first album Barton Hallow received a Grammy; it showcased the obvious talent and chemistry of Williams and White. And while they were never a couple, they are both separately married with children, their best songs play off the will-they-or-won’t-they tension that fills the spaces between locked eyes and harmonized choruses.

The songs on this album are nothing short of radiant, from the flawless vocals to the simple arrangements, the duo are an absolute treasure.

In late 2012, they unceremoniously cancelled a chunk of tour dates, and announced that they would no longer play together live. It wasn’t quite a breakup, but it was enough to seriously question if they would have new music for their fans this year. To everyone’s surprise, Williams and White somehow managed to get in the studio together, at the height of their mutual discontent, to record their highly anticipated sophomore self-titled album.

Their 2011 début album, Barton Hollow, received a huge boost when Adele hailed them as ‘the best live band I’ve ever seen.’ They went on to win two Grammy awards this year, collecting them without making eye contact or, notably, thanking each other. They stated ‘If you want to know what happened to the band, listen to the album.’

That raw honesty runs through the core of this album. From the album’s opening moments with the dark, smoky eruption of The One That Got Away, a resonant track that doesn’t have a hint of any reconciliation between the two. A perfect break-up song that could resonate with many, with poignant lyrics such as ‘Oh, if I could go back in time / When you only held me in my mind / Just a longing gone without a trace / Oh, I wish I’d never ever seen your face / I wish you were the one/ Wish you were the one that got away.’

I Had Me a Girl is a little brooding, a little dangerous. It smoulders says Williams. With dark Gothic tones and distorted electric guitars, White’s voice is seductive; Whereas Williams’ vocals are moody and entrancing.  A classic Civil Wars type of track, with amazing vocal runs and simple relatable lyrics such as ‘Like cigarette smoke/ she came and she went/ I slipped through his hands/ to my back door man/ under his chin’ – what more do you want from a song?

The album is littered with songs, describing emotional turmoil.  Same Old Same Old is haunting, gentle with profound lyrics. Williams describes the meaning behind this track she says ‘This song represents the ache of monogamy… What I’m realizing now is that sometimes the ‘same old same old’ can actually be rich, worthwhile and a great adventure.’ The track is beautiful, it’s about love, separation and desire. The gorgeous acoustic guitar gently accompanies the two voices.

Dust To Dust starts with a metronome drumbeat that is the pulse of the entire song. Williams’ voice is elegant, filled with heartache and longing. When she sings the lyrics ‘They don’t fool me, you’ve been lonely too long, and it is definitely heart-breaking. She comments on the process of writing this song. Dust to Dust is ‘an anthem for the lonely… when John Paul and I wrote this late one night in Birmingham, England, we decided to change the pronoun at the end of the song. We wanted to represent that we all experience loneliness in our lives.’

Eavesdrop is a mid-tempo acoustic number that builds. A song that could easily swap from Country to Pop, it is one of my favourites on the entire album.  Williams says ‘Pregnancy literally changed the make-up of my vocal chords. There’s a different timbre to it now, and I love that I can hear the story of my son in my singing.’

Vocally, the real gem on the album is Devils Backbone, Williams croons about a bad boy love affair, and it’s a great showcase of what she can do with her stunning voice. The duo says ‘this song is our take on an Americana murder ballad.’ This track is a little more complex than the other, a smooth mix of rock ‘n’ roll and country.

From This Valley brings a cheerful disposition to a collection of sombre tracks. Towards the end of country gospel track, drums and guitars suddenly drop away to leave the voices of Joy Williams and John Paul White exposed, the duo harmonising with almost spooky grace. Syllables are elongated and multiplied, their voices blend together, twisting and turning, separating and uniting.

Tell Mama is a rendition of a classic, Williams quotes ‘We recorded the performance at Fame studio in Muscle Shoals, a place we’d written a few songs. I always felt the musical ghosts in that studio, one of whom was the great Etta James. We thought it would be a fun to take a stab at ‘Tell Mama.’ I found out later that where we recorded was the same room she recorded her version. That might explain why I kept getting goose bumps.’ They bring out the conviction in the lyrics and the gorgeous flow of the melody.

Oh Henry isn’t my favourite on the album; it seems to drop in quality ever so slightly. The music is bright and buoyant but the song doesn’t really sit well with the rest on the album. Disarm is a rendition of the Smashing Pumpkins number. This track showcases White’s soaring vocals, gentle acoustic guitar and perfectly mirrored harmonies, this is excellent.

Sacred Heart is the only track on the album in a different language. Williams says ‘We wrote this song in a flat in Paris, with the Eiffel Tower in full review on a cold night. Tall windows and Victorian furniture, somehow the atmosphere of all the seeped into the song.’ Although this song is in French, the feeling behind the words still bleeds through. A delightful and unexpected turn on the album, a charming song.

D’Arline is ‘a sweet lament of loss and the belief that you’ll never be able to love anybody else again. While we were recording the song together, John Paul and I could hear crows cawing in the background that I’ve since named Edgar, Allen and Poe. This recording and performance of the song is the first and only in existence, a work tape recorded simple on my iPhone.’ A quiet and gentle song that perfectly closes the album.

Williams and White haven’t spoken since the album’s recording finished in the early spring of 2013, and it’s a damn shame that there’s little chance these songs will be performed any time soon. Nonetheless, The Civil Wars have left fans with what is undoubtedly the best album of their career, an elegant, country-stomping exploration of emotional and creative inspiration that definitely didn’t disappoint.

 Rating 5/5

Dream Big Or Don’t Dream At All.

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I think this is the most confident I have ever felt about my writing. I currently have 8,000 words of my first novel drafted, it doesn’t sound a lot compared to the 80,000 word mark I am hoping to achieve but for me it is a big accomplishment. I tend to bore easily with my story ideas but I strongly believe in this one. I might be currently writing The Pendant but that doesn’t stop me developing other pieces of writing. I am in the process of redrafting a poetry collection, I submitted it last year for my Poetry class and my tutor told me with a few more edits it could be published, so I am taking her advice and I am trying to polish it and will hopefully submit it to a competition when it is completed. There are fifteen poems in the collection and I have considered adding a few more, the collection is titled Beneath My Feet and the themes throughout the collection are place, landscape and time.

I also have the ambition to write a short story collection, I have a few ideas and would like the theme to be love, finding love and losing love. I have a few short stories that I have already written that could be apart of this collection and I have plenty of story ideas scribbled in my journal for new short stories. I am determined to make this an academic year of writing. When I finish my third year of university I would like at least 50,000 words of my novel manuscript completed and a collection of poetry and short stories. I am also studying screen writing this year and even though I enjoy it I don’t inspire to carry on with this medium after university.

I have always been overly ambitious, I just wish my efforts matched this ambition. I am indecisive, easily distracted and easily bored which definitely makes being a writer a harder journey to endure. I like to set myself aims that are possibly out of my reach, then I won’t be disappointed if I don’t reach them because they were big dreams in the first place. I’ve always believed that you should dream big or don’t dream at all. I am really excited to go back to university and carry on with my studies, I know that my last year is going to be my hardest year but I am going to try my best and hopefully I will have several creative pieces ready to be published when I graduate.

I would love to have my poetry or my short stories published. I know it’s going to be a few more years until my first novel will be ready to be submitted somewhere, so even though I am writing it I am working on other projects so I can get them published too. I have big dreams. I want to walk into Waterstones and see my book on the shelf.  I want people to get lost in a story that I created, I want people to fall in love with the characters that only existed in my imagination and I want people to eagerly anticipate reading my novels when I write them. I want to have a successful career, possibly publishing or editing I’m not entirely sure yet. I have big dreams and I am determined that they are all going to happen.  Every writer is an optimist. Canadian poet Margret Atwood quotes that ‘Any writer is an optimist. Why? Number one: they think they’ll finish their book. Number two: they think somebody will publish it. Number three: they think somebody will read it. That’s a lot of optimism. It’s optimistic in and for itself because it believes in human communication.’


‘The Hunger Games’ Film Review

I went to the cinema today to watch ‘The Hunger Games.’ I saw the trailer  about a month ago and I had already heard a few of the songs on the soundtrack. I don’t really know what my expectations of this film were but they were definatley exceeded. I loved the film because the storyline was strong and it keeps you on the edge of your seat.

The main protagonist Katniss Everdeen is a brave character who volunteers to fight in the hunger games for district twelve instead of her sister Primrose. The other main character Peeta Mellark is also part of the same district and without spoiling too much for you they also have a strong bond throughout the film. I loved the mix of elements displayed in the film, there were some parts that almost made you laugh but the sadness overshadows most of the film.

The ending is a surprise too and you know that the story doesn’t end there, I knew there was two other parts to the hunger games trilogy so I knew the film makers would end the story on a nice cliffhanger. The film is amazing and if you have a chance to go to the cinema I would go and see it. I usually read the book and then go and watch the film because the books are usually better.

In this case I watched the film first, I am going to go and buy all three books from Waterstones and hope to not be disappointed with the comparison to the film. The Hunger Games is the next big phenomenon and I know that fans will be praying that Catching Fire and Mockingjay are also made into films.

Rating – 5 stars

‘The Lucky One’ Nicholas Sparks Book Review

The second I finished The Lucky One I knew that Nicholas Sparks had created the perfect romantic story again. I have to admit I have a big addiction to romance novels like these… Stories that can pluck at your heart strings and bring tears to your eyes.  The Lucky one wasn’t the saddest of the Sparks collection of books, the ending did create the illusion of a bad ending at first though (If you read the book you will know what I mean by that).

I’ve read a lot of books by Nicholas Sparks and while it was not his best book I did enjoy it, as I always do. Once you get into the plot it is hard to put the book down. Sparks has the ability to keep the reader intrigued and emotionally attached to the diverse characters. We all want to see these character happy and together. However, The Lucky One was very predicable from the beginning.

I don’t know if it’s because I read a lot of romance novels and the couple always gets together at the end but I knew what was going to happen from the beginning. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, can you really have a love story without the typical cliche ending? The basic love story, boy meets girl and they fall in love with some twists and complications. I have yet to get sick of these romance novels because I enjoy reading them.

I really liked the character Keith Clayton in this novel, he wasn’t the typical antagonist. He was the main character Elizabeth’s ex husband and one of the narrators to the story. The novel was separated into different narrators, this portrayed the different points of views of the characters and I really liked this about this particular novel. Clayton is a very complicated character that the reader starts to hate as the story progresses. Sparks always has a balance of good and bad characters but in The Lucky one I feel he created a bigger contrast with the character Clayton.

I asked for a Nicholas Sparks book for Christmas and gave my family a big list and they chose at random. Weird how they chose The Lucky one. I saw the trailer for the film adaptation a few days after I reached the middle of the book. I will go and see the film but the expectation is always low because the book is always better in my opinion. The Lucky One is coming out on April 20th.

However, I would recommend reading the book first to avoid disappointment. Nicholas Sparks never fails to make you smile, cry and gasp with surprise. Sometimes you just need a feel good novel, if you enjoy reading romantic novels then Sparks if for you. I do think that some of his other novels are better, The Notebook, The Last Song and A Walk to remember are my personal favourites but I would still recommend The Lucky one.