I used to pride myself on knowing the artist behind every song to cross my eardrums, but I totally slacked when I first heard “Poison & Wine” on a TV promo. I found its source (much later) to be The Civil Wars: a duo of singer-songwriters, Joy Williams and John Paul White.
The pair met in Nashville at a songwriters’ camp and ended up in the same room as random partners — what can only be described as country-music kismet. Their songs are genuine and complicated, with little acoustic backup, while the music and lyrics stand on their own.
It’s completely refreshing in a world of digitized music, and mega-celebs like Taylor Swift took notice quickly. Swift announced her appreciation for their sound — inspiring millions to tune in — and she collaborated with the duo for “The Hunger Games” soundtrack to create “Safe & Sound.”
Nominated for various awards last year, The Civil Wars finally struck gold at the 54th GRAMMY Awards, with Best Folk Album and Best Country Duo/Group Performance (neither televised). They also introduced Taylor before she performed there.
Other songs to check out from The Civil Wars:
The Civil Wars are wrapping up the American leg of their current tour, with the remainder of the year being spent in Europe.
Smooth and sultry, like a good whiskey.
I was going to post about something entirely different today, but then the 54th GRAMMY Awards happened.
LL Cool J served as host, and he opened the ceremony with a beautiful prayer to honor the late Whitney Houston. The evening’s breakdown is as follows:
The Fashions: Another awards show, another competition for weirdest outfit between …
- Lady Gaga – We barely heard about her this year, but she still managed to carry a scepter, throw a fishing net over herself and call it a style.
- Nicki Minaj – Not as outlandish as I expected, Miss Minaj only had a few ensembles, the worst of which was her cape and accompanying priest.
- Katy Perry – Does the woman ever mix up the monochrome? She was all about baby blue, and it wasn’t really working.
The Performances: Much-anticipated and mostly memorable, this year’s performers were …
- Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band opened, without so much as a crotch shot. (Anyone else still haunted by that?)
- Bruno Mars brought the funk with a shout-out to Whitney that was reminiscent of his VMA tribute to Amy.
- Chris Brown still looks and sounds like a 16-year-old, but his dance moves are getting more interesting. Full disclosure: I kept waiting for him to fall from his Aggro Crag tower.
- Reba looked timeless as she introduced Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson for “Don’t You Wanna Stay?” Their mics were uneven, and Kelly’s stylist seriously needs to be fired.
- The Foo Fighters performed “Walk” outside the Staples Center, and Dave Grohl still has my heart. ‘Nuff said.
- Rihanna and Coldplay are generally two of my least favorite popular music performers, so I can’t be unbiased here. My ears didn’t bleed, which was new.
- Hey, Ryan Seacrest: Thanks for the puns, champ. Maroon 5 began with “Little Surfer Girl” — just when I thought Adam Levine’s voice couldn’t get any worse. Foster the People’s “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” was spot-on. And for their 50th anniversary, The Beach Boys put out “Good Vibrations,” while everyone in the audience looked really, really white singing and dancing along (even future hubby John Legend).
- Stevie Wonder forever remains a baller. Speaking to Whitney, playing the harmonica, singing a little … oh, and he introduced Sir Paul McCartney’s sleepy performance of “My Valentine.”
- The Civil Wars gave a stellar acoustic opening for Taylor Swift, who still hasn’t learned to dance. I’d tell you what she sang, but they all sound the same to me.
- Always-gorgeous Kate Beckinsale partnered with LL to introduce always-offbeat Katy Perry, proving once again that her songs are all slow as shit but layered over upbeat tracks.
- Gwyneth Paltrow welcomed Adele back to the stage — and “Rolling in the Deep” never sounded so good.
- Taylor Swift looked even more dowdy introducing a medley of Glen Campbell songs (does she even know who he is?). The Band Perry, Blake Shelton and the rhinestone cowboy himself came together for a toe-tapping trifecta. Campbell got a little lost at the end, making him all the more endearing.
- Following the In Memoriam tributes, Jennifer Hudson brought the crowd to its feet with an emotional “I Will Always Love You.”
- Remembering Don Cornelius, Soul Train legend, were Chris Brown, David Guetta and Lil’ Wayne in an LSD-induced dance-off. Bonus: The Foo Fighters rocked with “Rope” and a little help from DeadMau5.
- Drake introduced Nicki Minaj for her super-confusing mash-up, which went into a short film and “The Exorcism of Roman” — both were disturbing at best.
- Luckily, Sir Paul McCartney closed out the night with “Golden Slumbers” and redeemed the stage from Nicki’s head-scratching show.
The Winners: Only nine golden gramaphones were shown, those being …
- Presenters Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt began with “A Sunday Kind of Love“ by Etta James. Best Pop Solo Performance went to Adele for “Someone Like You,” and the crowd roared for the comeback queen’s victory.
- Fergie’s acting skills are still lacking, but she and Marc Anthony presented Best Rap Performance to Kanye West and new daddy Jay Z, who were not in attendance.
- Victor Cruz salsa danced his way into presenting Best Rock Performance with that girl from “NCIS” and fellow Giant Mario Manningham. Foo won for “Walk,” and Dave Grohl’s acceptance speech was wonderful — urging musicians to CREATE, instead of FABRICATE — no complaints here.
- Common and Taraji P. Henson presented Chris Brown’s “Fame” with the GRAMMY for Best R&B Album. As per usual, he opened his mouth and sounded like an idiot.
- NPH was suited up for Adele’s Song of the Year award, thanks to played-every-minute powerhouse “Rolling in the Deep.”
- Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley awarded Best Country Album to trio Lady Antebellum for “Own the Night.”
- Carrie Underwood sparkled alongside legend Tony Bennett, singing “It Had to Be You.” They then presented — a witty and admittedly uncomfortable — Bon Iver with the GRAMMY for Best New Artist.
- Lady Antebellum returned to the stage, awarding Record of the Year to clear favorite Adele for “Rolling in the Deep.” Her speech was a bit awkward, but you gotta love the way Brits say “fank you.”
- OG Diva Diana Ross received a standing O before presenting Album of the Year to Adele for “21.” Another standing O and a very emotional speech (with a “bit a snot”) later, the curtain fell.
And special props to Betty White, who won her first GRAMMY at just 90 years old.
I asked myself no less than 10 times why I was watching the awards, but I just couldn’t help myself. From tragedies to triumphs, it was one hell of a show.
No — here’s looking at you, kid.