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The Civil Wars

Between the Bars – 2013 (Sony)

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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CDs by The Civil Wars

Music keeps flowing from The Civil Wars, and this four-song EP of covers is not filler. In fact, all four songs - Sour Times, Between the Bars, Billie Jean and Talking in Your Sleep - could easily have wound up on a full-scale release by Joy Lynn Williams and John Paul White.

Including Billie Jean should come as no shock to anyone who has seen them live because this was a staple in their live gigs (although probably a surprise if you hadn't seen them before). The Michael Jackson song features White taking a more forceful vocal role with the pretty voice of Williams more in the background while an acoustic guitar provides the musical accompaniment. The interplay between Williams and Jackson is as strong as ever, and it must be said that there is more than a touch of sadness in hearing them work together here since the two have had a personal falling out with no live performances slated.

The Civil Wars take another well-known song - The Romantics' Taking in Your Sleep and tattoo it. The song is anchored by a lonesome piano, meaning the emphasis, of course, is on the vocals. There's simply great vocal interplay between the two with both of them letting loose at varying points. If you didn't know any better, you'd think they were a couple in real life (they both are married - to other people).

Sour Times, from British band Portishead, starts off quietly, but soon gains a musical force that is fraught with tension both musically and vocally. The Civil Wars' version stands up well compared to that of Portishead, which has a more trippy guitar feel.

White assumes lead vocals on Elliott Smith's title track with Williams adding backing vocals. Their take is not as subdued vocally as Smith's, but that is a good thing.

While perhaps not all that much different than their own material, since "Between the Bars" shows a face of the duo that they (used to) show in concert, it is a most welcome addition to their small body of recorded music.