I've developed a mild obsession with the music of The Civil Wars:And the thing is, I'm not a particular fan of "country" music, at least the kind of thing that comes out of the Nashville yick-a-hoo music factories today.
The Civil Wars create something very different; a frighteningly naked, stripped-down, achingly-harmonious plainsong of the sort that my Celtic ancestors brought with them to the impoverished hills of places like West Virginia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas that eventually became the blues, and Western swing, and finally the country-and-western that we know today.
The "country" music you hear cranking out of pickup trucks and from the speakers in the faux-cowboy bars always seems to me to be fundamentally about pride and arrogance. The singers - and the listeners - may adhere to the old formulas about whiskey and broken hearts and faithless women. But down inside is a sort of inverted smugness. Yeah, the music seems to say, I'm an ignerent shitkicker...but because of my bone-deep Country Strength (and patriotism and the love of Jesus in my heart) I'm a better man (or woman) than you latte'-sipping sophisticates and I - and down deep in your heart, you - know that.
If the music of The Civil Wars is "country" it sounds to me like the older country; the "country" of the Scots-Irish refugees who came here seeking not a better life but any life at all, having been whipped out of their old lives like starving dogs. It's a grievous music, full of the knowledge that while the meek may inherit the Earth while they live in it they'll probably get jack, and shit; that the rich man and the strong man are going to grow richer and stronger and the poor man will not. That a lifetime of toil and heartbreak are your lot and mine, and we cannot change that, and we cannot escape it.