"I just feel like war must be the furthest that a human can go into the darkness—I can't think of anything much worse. Love is the other end—and I'm really fascinated with the point where they intersect."

Singer-songwriter Barton Carroll is discussing the conflicted thematic core of Love & War, his quietly troubling and inherently beautiful collection of songs recently released by Alabama-based Skybucket Records. Carroll, 32, currently makes his living in Seattle, working as a self-employed plumber between tours with indie icon Eric Bachman's bittersweet folk-rock outfit Crooked Fingers (Carroll contributes both guitar and upright bass to the band). It was on just such a tour that people began to catch on to Carroll's talents outside of Crooked Fingers. Carroll offered to send a curious audience member a copy of his then-unreleased solo record. Shortly thereafter, that fan began talking up the songs in a Crooked Fingers chat room, and a grassroots following sprang up.

Working from a spare palette of highly intimate, humanistic shades, Carroll sketches out disarmingly vivid and compassionate portraits of characters caught up in moments of both euphoria and agony, drawing inspiration from historical sources such as Holocaust memoirs and Stalin biographies, while revealing influences as varied as the Ramones and Bruce Springsteen. "To me the writer's job is to take a journey and take the audience with them," explains Carroll. "Rather than say 'Hey, look what I figured out!'"