The Civil Wars, Poison and Wine (2010)

I first heard of The Civil Wars in Nashville, from their producer, Charlie Peacock. They stood out, he said, so it wasn’t surprising that their song, “Poison & Wine” had been featured on the TV show, Grey’s Anatomy. “Joy Williams and John Paul White make up this enigmatic duo of sultry, southern-gothic heartache,” Charlie notes. “They are mostly two voices and an acoustic guitar—sometimes a piano.”

The Poison & Wine EP consists of only four songs, and it makes you yearn for more. The vocals are clear, the melodies lovely, the harmonies effortless, and the performance is simple yet sufficient for the songs to make their way into your heart. Williams and White sing of love, not the endless horizontal shuffling of the characters at Seattle’s fictional Grace Hospital, but the love celebrated in the ancient Hebrew Song of Songs. The love we yearn for, yet find so hard, a love that is free yet costly, easy yet hard.

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…
I always will…

[from “Poison & Wine”]

This is not the lyrics of the promiscuous but the cry of a heart that knows both that it is fickle and that only love can heal the breach.

Covenantal love must be nourished if it not to be lost, and always our finiteness makes the effort challenging. Some covenants are broken, trust smashed by unfaithfulness and made more hurtful by denial or a lack of repentance.

Did Sirens steal your heart when you were looking?
Where’d you learn to lie the way you do?
Look’s like you made up your mind.
I’d have to say I didn’t see this coming
But who does?
You won’t want to see me standing in the door

So Go, Go, Go
[from “Go”]

Some covenants remain legally intact but flounder from lack of substance, the rituals of daily life being all that remains of the foundations. The brokenness can seem more than we can bear. How is it that we can be so blind, so cold to the reality of our choices, to the cool calm rationality of our rationalizations?

We know, from deep within our beings that love must somehow be possible and must somehow be the answer. Made in the image of the triune God, we cannot exist apart from relationship, from Him, our personalities and beings so dependent on love that without it we die. Each falling in love is but an echo of a larger reality, each marriage an imperfect, partial picture of a far greater consummation yet to come.

Oh dear, never saw you coming
Oh my, look what you have done
You’re my favorite song
Always on the tip of my tongue

You own me with whispers like poetry
Your mouth is a memory I memorize
So sweet, I hear it echo
Everywhere I go
Day and night

[from “Tip of My Tongue”]

It is, I think, the simple delights that delight us most. A meal with a few close friends lovingly prepared and presented on a table where a bottle of wine and a vase of flowers add beauty. A bird feeder hanging in a tree in view so the antics of finches, chickadees, and even common sparrows can be enjoyed. Love songs that act like little tokens of good things.

Meet me in the garden where the weeds grow tall,
Down by the gate
I’ve got a secret that I might tell
It’ll give me away
Whatever you do
Keep it with you

You and I, well we’re just pressing flowers
They’re dying, but they’re ours

[from “Pressing Flowers”]

Such is grace in our sad world, and it is not to be despised, or missed. One more song from The Civil Wars:

I hear something hanging on the wind
I see black smoke up around the bend
I got my ticket
I want to go home

The leaves have changed since I were to leave
Since the last time the train came through
I got my ticket and I want to go home

My father’s father’s blood is on the track
A sweet refrain of sin from the past
I got my ticket and I’m going to go home

The winding roads that led me here
Burn like coal and dry like tears
So here’s my hope
My tired soul
So here’s my ticket
I want to go home

[“My Father’s Father” from Live at Eddie’s Attic, available online for free download (]


Charlie Peacock in personal conversation with the author and on his blog, The Record Producer [].