NPR logo The Civil Wars Cover Elliott Smith

Just In

The Civil Wars Cover Elliott Smith

John Paul White (left) and Joy Williams of The Civil Wars. Allister Ann/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption
Allister Ann/Courtesy of the artist

John Paul White (left) and Joy Williams of The Civil Wars.

Allister Ann/Courtesy of the artist

If you remembered that John Paul White and Joy Williams had announced they were taking a hiatus last year, the news of a new digital EP from The Civil Wars might make you scratch your head. But this cover of Elliott Smith's "Between the Bars," which lends its name to the EP, was actually recorded a while back with producers Rick Rubin and Charlie Peacock.

John Paul White (left) and Joy Williams of The Civil Wars. Allister Ann/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption
Allister Ann/Courtesy of the artist

John Paul White (left) and Joy Williams of The Civil Wars.

Allister Ann/Courtesy of the artist

The Civil Wars, 'Between The Bars'

02Between The Bars

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/272133904/272147564" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • from Between The Bars
  • by The Civil Wars

Elliott Smith released his version of the song, which features his double-tracked vocals, in 1997, on his album Either/Or. Williams and White captured that sound well, using their own signature harmonies. It's a song about addiction — in this case, to alcohol — a problem Smith dealt with along with drug addiction and depression, but the song's lyrics are a perfect example of Smith's ambiguous way with words. Is he singing about neighborhood bars? The bars of a jail cell?

The Civil Wars cover of "Between the Bars" was released as part of a four-song vinyl EP last fall, almost exactly 10 years after Smith's sad and untimely death at the age of 34 (he died of two stab wounds to the chest, and though there was a note, it was never officially deemed a suicide). Other songs include Portishead's "Sour Times," Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" and The Romantics' "Talking in Your Sleep." A digital version will be on iTunes on February 11.

NPR thanks our sponsors