John Paul White of The Civil Wars Charmed at the Duck Room

 In Culture

Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to see one half of Grammy-Award-winning duo The Civil Wars perform at Blueberry Hill’s legendary Duck Room. John Paul White has wrapped his solo album—the first one in nearly a decade—and has taken to the road engaging audiences nationwide. The album is called “Beulah” and will officially be released on Single Lock Records Aug. 19.

The last time White was here in St. Louis, he played at The Pageant, or “The Passion” as he accidentally called it and then corrected himself—“No, That’s in Boston.” Needless to say, his intimate venue choice was ever exciting for long time fans. Opening the show were White’s “favorite pair of voices” and also an act featured on his new record, The Secret Sisters. This team of sisters, Laura and Lydia Rogers, are out of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, but made their mark in Nashville, Tennessee early on.

“Take the world away, get it off my shoulders,”—a line from their opening song, resonates with me still. The harmonies these sisters pull off are bone-chilling. It’s what you want and expect from two very talented siblings with soul.

However, their songwriting is far from run-of-the-mill. They are eloquent, poignant songwriters, unlike anything you will hear as far as mainstream country music goes. Laura Rogers, who seemed to be the more talkative of the two, commented on this notion saying, “If you’re listening to country music on the radio, it’s probably not really country music.”

On stage, their honesty is apparent. They have a fun, endearing banter between them as they talk about their time on tour, their sisterly fights and pegging Laura as the chatty troublemaker.

Their third song was a one written under the instruction of one of the greatest songwriters in history—Mr. Bob Dylan himself. It turns out, White is not the only fan of their incredibly smooth voices, catchy country hooks and tug-at-the-heart-strings ballads. The Secret Sisters’ 30-minute-set was all too short. They thanked the audience for being there, and White for “taking them under his wing” as he invited them along on this incredibly personal tour. These girls are the real, honest deal. After a quick 15-minute turn around, White came out in a full suit and tie with a simple demeanor and a shy confidence that filled the room. He opened the show solo, then invited his band on stage including drums, bass and keys (who occasionally hopped on the vibraphone) performing an early release, “The Martyr.” Check out what NPR had to say about that song after releasing it on “Songs We Love.”


Photo by Cara Wegener

White’s voice was just as effortless and controlled as ever, as he gazed around the room making eye contact with the silently engaged crowd. The only noises that came from the seated room were spouts of laughter at his witty banter, applause for songs and howls when he asked if  he could bring the sisters back to join him. White said he had them in mind while writing these new songs and knew they would have to accompany a track on the album. And he was right—their harmonies created an eerie background as they accented choruses and essential lines.

When the Secret Sisters left the stage, White switched guitars and changed gears a little, performing “Fight For You,” which is a little darker, a little more rock and roll—different from the majority of the songs he writes.

Switching guitars once more, White performed “Hope I Die.” As a lady from the front row left her seat, he yearningly looked at the crowd and said, “We’ll do better,” with a laugh. That break in song turned into minutes of banter with the audience and everyone in the room was loving it.

Inviting the sisters back for a song they wrote together, “I’ve Been Over This Before,” the trio continued to wow us. At this point, White honestly and most graciously thanked everyone for coming out. As it is his first time in a while standing on his own, vulnerable to a crowd, you could see it in his eyes how much it meant to him.

“I don’t like explaining what songs are about. it’s boring,” he said before performing “Simple Song”—a song that is not on the new record. He ended the show with a multiple song encore, which included a song from the ABC show “Nashville,” titled “No One Will Ever Love You,” which he wrote alongside Steve McEwan.

Instead, White explained the title of his album, “Beulah,” saying, “It’s a place you go to really heal and center and that’s what I’ve been doing, so that’s the name of the album.”

Overall the show left me feeling “happy, but sad” as Laura Rogers said it would, and although I knew we were in the basement of one of STL’s most iconic spots, the night really felt like a perfect summer night at the Ryman.

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