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The Civil Wars Quietly Storm The IFC Crossroads House

The Civil Wars Quietly Storm The IFC Crossroads House (photo)

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At first glance, you would expect Joy Williams and John Paul White to be a source of stone cold severity. There doesn’t seem to be room for play in a duo that names themselves The Civil Wars — she, dressed in all black, lace up to her collarbone; he, in a staid gray suit, cinched with a gentleman’s bow tie. But the playfulness beneath the surface is what makes The Civil Wars’ often melancholy songs of love so resonant, and their live show, performed last night at the IFC Crossroads House, ultimately mesmerizing.

In the tradition of duos like June Carter and Johnny Cash, Williams and White have an on-stage rapport there that belies a certain degree of intimacy and comfort; though like another dark-haired, country-leaning duo of red and white sartorial splendor, no they are not married, and yes, they know you’re wondering. Williams and White use this intrigue to their dramatic advantage, teasing and taunting each other during their performances. She smooths his hair and straightens his collar. They throw their heads back in sync, holding notes longer than they should be held, shooting each other brazen, toothy smiles and side glances. There is a chemistry at work — a twinkle. It may not be love, but it’s close enough for the audience to get giddy off the high.

Williams hails from Northern California, and White from Alabama, but Nashville is where they came together, and their songs are born of the spare clarity of the country music town’s influence. The duo first gained recognition when the title track off their “Poison and Wine” EP soundtracked the final minutes of an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” but it is clear their songs are borne of the subtlety and splendor that catapults them beyond the realm of momentary TV soundtrack stardom. And though “Poison and Wine” is a particularly somber sampling of their sound, the duo is just as magnificent when they’re hip swinging and foot stomping, their vocals leaping after each other, as they do on the title track of their first full-length album, “Barton Hollow,” which was produced, along with their EP, by Grammy Award-winner, Charlie Peacock.

Both Williams and White wield wildly malleable voices that swing from brassy twang, to coy, breathy whisper, to bold bell-like clarity. Harmony is their entrée offering, but most interesting is how they put the meal together, beginning in glorious discord, and sliding their voices, vibratos mystifyingly synchronized, to harmonious resolution. To watch this kind of congruence manifest itself in front of you, over and over again, is as mind-blowing as watching a magician disappear a body from a hollow box. You just keep thinking, “How do they do it?”

Perhaps the most endearing songs in the hour-long set were their covers, which included a chilling version of The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm,” and a slow, seductive interpretation of “Billie Jean,” Williams playing the seductress to White’s pleading narrator. Even when tackling other musicians’ material, The Civil Wars can read as somber, serious, pensive – but never without a bit of light shining through. Towards the close of the set, the duo also took on “You Are My Sunshine,” which, we all discovered, is one of the state songs of Louisiana. “The verses are actually quite sad,” Williams said of the tune with the sunny title. “Which fits us perfectly,” said White, matching his partner’s warning with its complementary humorous note, and encapsulating the harmony of this special pair.

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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