New band of the day – No 1,036: The Civil Wars

We have Adele to thank for introducing us to this Americana duo, whose songs deal with affairs of the heart and lives lived hard

Hometown: Nashville.

The lineup: Joy Williams and John Paul White.

The background: Adele is the new Morrissey. Discuss. We don't mean she's taken to wearing gladioli in her back pocket or appearing on primetime pop TV shows with the words "Marry Me" scrawled across her chest. No, we mean she's become the person who gets cited as a fan of such-and-such a new act as a way of proving their quality and star power. Remember how, every so often, a band would come along and Morrissey would champion them, and it would either be a guarantee of success or the kiss of death? Well, Adele appears to have assumed his role as Artist Who Recommends Other Artists. She was ecstatic about Vampire Weekend, she tweeted excitedly about Wretch 32, and now she's gone well over the top about the Civil Wars, an indie-folk-cum-Americana duo. In her blog, before inviting them to join her as support on some of her US dates, she wrote: "they are by far the BEST live band i have EVER seen. they are magical and stunning, they make my heart hurt but make it a bit stronger at the same time too! if you're coming to any of the shows on this trip make sure you get there early to see them. i've never been so blown away. i could go on gushing forever …"

The best live band she has ever seen? Well, she's too young to have caught the Stones at Altamont, the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club, Nirvana at the Astoria or Public Enemy at Brixton Academy, but we did see her at the Odd Future gig the other month at YoYo, so that is quite a claim. And she's not alone in loving them: Taylor Swift also tweeted about them to her five million-plus followers. Not that five million punters rushed out and bought their debut album, Barton Hollow, when it came out in the States in February. It has, however, sold nearly 100,000 copies in the US and it did, in its first week, become the No 1 downloaded album on iTunes, peak at No 1 on the Billboard Digital Albums chart, No 12 on the Billboard 200, No 2 on the Billboard Folk Albums chart, and No 3 on the Billboard Rock Albums chart.

All those different charts give some sense of the difficulty you might have in placing the Civil Wars. They're a bit folk but not quite freak-folky enough for the Devendra Banhart set. They can sound a little like Laurel Canyon revisited, and also a bit MOR country so that they could almost fit alongside a duo such as the Pierces. Some have evoked the classic example of male/female Americana, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, while on a more contemporary tip, the names Robert Plant and Alison Krauss have been mentioned. There are songs on their album that are almost folk madrigals, while others feature pedal steel guitar and mournful violin that place them squarely in the country camp. Throughout, the songs deal with affairs of the heart and the relationship wreckage of lives lived hard. They're mostly self-penned apart from the cover of Leonard Cohen's Dance Me to the End of Love and the even riskier version of the Jackson 5's I Want You Back, which inadvertently makes a serious point about the importance of context, delivery, production and arrangement in the decision as to where a song belongs culturally, even sociohistorically. Nice one, Adele.

The buzz: "by far the BEST live band i have EVER seen. they are magical and stunning" – Adele.

The truth: They are by far the BEST country-folk duo we've heard all week, apart from To Kill a King.

Most likely to: Fly the flag for freedom.

Least likely to: Fly the freak-folk flag.

What to buy: You can hear Barton Hollow on Spotify.

File next to: Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Taylor Swift, Pierces.


Monday's new band: Wonderland.


Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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