Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
If we're to believe what we hear on The Civil Wars' "Barton Hollow," love is equivalent to the system that planets and moons have worked out. From a position on the surface, looking upward and into the heavens, we can see that the moon or moons are up there, blinking or glowing madly, with a brilliance all its own. We can even see other planets - distantly, of course - we look at them and know that they're in sync with their moon or moons as well. We can admire those moons, want to reach them, to see them closer, to find a way to touch them and yet, there are staggering odds that things will ever work out that way. Only 12 people have EVER stepped upon the surface of the moon. So, people have found a way to intersect with the moon, but, obviously, there's no way to ever take the Earth to the moon or vice versa. The planets and the moons never meet. Joy Williams and John Paul White, for being two of the most helplessly romantic songwriters in America - consumed by the wonderful saccharine, but tragic nature of people finding and then falling in love with other people - lead us to believe that there is a mountain to climb to find that one, the right one, and that's not all. It's all a dirty trick because once you've scaled that mountain, there's another mountain on top of it and this goes on and on. Above it all, though, is some kind of overriding belief, an intrinsic thought that lows the odds off. It's a sort of, "So what?" attitude toward the great impossibility of any of this ever working out in a desirable way. "Barton Hollow" consists of songs that - held together by the somehow optimistic voices of Williams and White, in that true folk/country western duet fashion - acknowledge the futility of so many attempts made. "I've Got This Friend," takes details from a man and a woman, talking about two friends. The man's "not much for words/He's hidden his heart away/Oh, I've got this friend, a loveless romantic/All that he really wants is someone to want him back." The woman "sings a simple song that sounds a lot like his/I've got this friend holding onto her heart/Like it's a little secret, like it's all she's got to give." They've just got to meet each other. They'd be perfect for each other, it's assumed, but thusly questioned as well. It's not certain if it would work out and instead of introducing them to each other, nothing happens. They won't be meeting and we're to take that, almost, like an issue of cosmic forces doing what they're going to do. It's as if, all of this is meant to be, for better or worse. "20 Years" is a song about a love that was never known to have existed. "To Whom It May Concern" takes the fanatical, but logical stance that there is a soul mate out there, as they say, for every single person. There is a match and it just needs to be found - that needle in the haystack. It's a song that blurs time and space, assuming a lot, but then again, if it's perfect, it's perfect. They sing, "I've missed you/But I haven't met you?Oh how I want to/How I do/Slowly counting down the days/Til I finally know your name/The way your hand feels round my waist/The way you laugh, the way your kisses taste." It's a strange purgatory filled with speculative bliss and crushing anticipation. The love that's already been found on this record seems not to have fared well and taken a turn for the worse - possibly the result of a mistake, the cause simply stopping the search too soon. It must be it, for love is supposed to be the ultimate. It sounds like it on this album, even in its darkest light. It's what has to come, but it sure sounds like a crapshoot, or worse.