Originally released early last year on the modest indie label Sensibility, the debut by singer-songwriters Joy Willams and John Paul White is now the recipient of a major label push, after a phenomenally successful 12 months for the duo. Barton Hollow landed The Civil Wars in the US Top 10 and brought them two Grammy awards, for Best Folk Album and Best Country Group Performance; an indication of their appeal across two, albeit closely linked, genres.
Backed mostly by White’s solitary guitar, the pair evoke the spirit of iconic bygone Americana duos, such as George and Tammy or Gram and Emmylou, though the most accurate modern parallel would be a sparser take on the Plant and Krauss joys of Raising Sand. The down-home delicacy of To Whom It May Concern is the perfect showcase for the fragility of their voices, while their tougher edges get a workout on the grinding title track.
The pair are at their best, however, when they harmonise on prairie waltzes Forget Me Not and I’ve Got This Friend, the intimacy and complementary phrasing transporting the listener to a world of aching hearts, stolen kisses and tearful regret. This revamped version of the album includes some eyebrow-raising covers, including Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me To The End Of Love and an emotionally fraught and dramatic take on Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean.