Barton Hollow

For some people, the word “pretty” is a pejorative term when it comes to describing music. If you’re such a person, you’ll probably want to steer clear of this debut album by the folk duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White, jointly known as The Civil Wars. They have voices that meld into perfect harmony, and they sing songs that are unequivocally pretty, sometimes gorgeously so. Think Robert Plant and Allison Krause, or think Sandy Denny singing with Fairport Convention and you’ll have some idea. This is music for a cabin in the woods, or a night camping by a stream up in the Sierras on a warm night when the sky is full of stars. The couple—and they are a couple—wrote all dozen songs here, and they write as well as they harmonize. The first track—“20 Years”—opens with a vaguely Asian guitar figure, then tells a haunting tale of memory, loss, and the hunger for redemption. Williams and White keep it simple on this debut, and simple is good here, lightly adorned and straightforward music from the heart, beautifully sung and enhanced by the merest of instrumental accompaniments. They create a small separate universe, one you can enter for an hour and take a brief vacation from your own.