Pain can be so beautiful.

by Todd Foley

Confession: I’m one of those ignorant viewers who had never heard of The Civil Wars before the Grammys.

I sat in front of the TV mesmerized as they sang the first few bars of “Barton Hollow.” It’s been a while since I heard such phenomenal harmonies. I was especially blown away to discover this was the same Joy Williams I saw perform some six years ago.

Immediately, I searched for their music on Youtube, eager to hear what other bluegrass-y songs the duo had to offer. I was stopped dead in my tracks upon discovering one titled “Poison & Wine.” The video (shown below) is a brilliant example of simple cinematography, and the piano blends beautifully with the guitar.

What stuck out more than anything, though, was the intimate pain described in the lyrics. Here are two individuals, in the same house, lamenting lost love but still trying to hold on to what was once there. The title describes this irony perfectly: Wine is a soothing remedy capable of drowning out the pain of lost love, yet too much of this wine (aka love) can lead to destruction and even more pain. Normally, heartache is anything but attractive. But the song’s poetic prose convey pain in a way that I can only describe as painfully beautiful.

That’s what keeps me coming back to The Civil Wars. Joy Williams and John Paul White are masterfully skilled at communicating the human experience in an accessible manner. It takes talent to repeat the phrase “I always will” 12 times in a row at the song’s conclusion without sounding redundant. They know how to use words.

Poison & Wine

You only know what I want you to
I know everything you don’t want me to
Oh your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine
Oh you think your dreams are the same as mine

Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
I always will

I wish you’d hold me when I turn my back
The less I give the more I get back
Oh your hands can heal, your hands can bruise
I don’t have a choice but I still choose you

Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
I always will
I always will
I always will
I always will
I always will

What songs do you find painfully beautiful?

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