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Friday, January 30, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 13.0° F  Fair
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The Civil Wars: Barton Hollow
(Sensibility Music)

Nashville pals John Paul White and Joy Williams are experts at brewing up rich, warm vocal blends, but their tandem songwriting talents are what really make this studio debut smolder. With harmonies that arch and twist into beautiful shapes, and masterful use of dynamics, the duo infuse their folk-pop with the elegance and formality of chamber music, especially on tracks such as "Poison & Wine" and "20 Years."

Each track develops its own personality. Williams' voice is playful and childlike on the bouncy "I've Got This Friend," then White's bluesy howl summons shivers galore on the rockin' title track. A few minutes later, country fiddle and a twangy lilt transform "Forget Me Not" into a vintage Southern lullaby perfect for a porch-swing rendezvous or a blissful stroll down a dirt road. While a few tracks, namely "My Father's Father" and "Falling," slow down the pace a bit too much, the soulful, toe-tapping "Birds of a Feather" restores energy to the album before its close.

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