Album Review – City and Colour – Little Hell

Photo courtesy of Vanessa Heins

It has been said that every Canadian homegrown rocker has a sensitive singer/songwriter hidden somewhere deep inside. If this is true then City and Colour (a.k.a. Dallas Green from Alexisonfire) is the proof. His past two releases, Sometimes and Bring Me Your Love, are quite a departure from his job with one of Canada’s most popular post-hardcore bands. The acoustic guitar driven albums have produced a couple of well deserved hits, Save Your Scissors and Sleeping Sickness respectively, but alienated some fans who were more used to his rockier vocals. For sure he has a great voice for a rock tune but these quiet reflections also showed us a more sensitive, and emotional, side. On Green’s newest album, Little Hell out today, he has reinvented himself once again showing a bluesier, and perhaps a tad country-ish, side.

The songs on Little Hell are once again reflections of things going on in Green’s private life. The first single, Fragile Bird, was written in response to his wife’s (So You Think You Can Dance Canada’s Leah Miller) battle with night terrors, a condition in which the sleeper may suddenly scream in fear, appear disoriented, not respond to stimuli and not remember the episode the next day. It has to be very distressing to suddenly be woken from sleep by your partner’s screams. “And when she wakes in her fragile state/Well, she calls my name hoping that I keep her safe/All that I can do, is hope she makes it through”. That’s got to be a traumatizing experience. And this is the general theme of this album, the little hell we go through day to day. These eleven songs are Green’s way of finding a way to cope. I admit it is a uncomfortable look at what scares Dallas.

Many artists have said that they find writing music cheap therapy and this seems to be very true of this work. Green’s dark side is front and centre on such songs as The Grand Optimist, Sorrowing Man, Silver and Gold and Natural Disaster which run the gamut from personal doubts to global tragedy. There is a bit of hope in We Found Each Other in the Dark which opens the album, “And when the smoke does finally pass/We will rise above all the ash/Cuz we’re gonna live/We’re gonna live/At last” but the melody is carried by a haunting steel guitar that floats behind Green’s clear falsetto. And I have to say that I absolutely adore his falsetto, it is so crisp and clean without any hint of the vibrato that characterizes most. The quality of Green’s voice is just so wonderful that I could listen to him sing anything and not care at all (so, Dallas, if you ever get the hankering to cover The Beibs, you can count on one sale anyway).

O’Sister is about Green’s feelings of helplessness while his sister struggled with mental illness while he was away on tour and unable to help her. It has resonated well with fans, some of whom have gone up to Green to tell him how much the song has helped them. This is a burden that has carried forward from Sleeping Sickness. Green feels a deep responsibility to his fans because of this and in Hope for Now he addresses this burden, “How can I instill such hope/But be left with none of my own?/What if I could sing/Just one song/And it might save somebody’s life”. His struggles with family issues are also evident in The Grand Optimist in which he muses about the polarity between his father’s rosy optimism and Green’s own pessimistic outlook. Little Hell, the title track, is about the ups and downs in any relationship, “What if everything’s just the way that it will be?/Could it be that I am meant to cause you all this grief?”

The songs on this album are much rockier than on the previous two which should make some fans happier. There is a heavier, darker feel to these songs because of a more weighty bottom-end and denser production. It is a much more mature and polished sound although lyrically it can be clunky and a bit trite (“My warship’s a-lying off the coast of your delicate heart, /And my aim is steady and true as it’s been right from the start” Huh?) but it’s not bad enough to stop me from finding them enjoyable. The acoustic sound isn’t completely gone, however, Northern Wind, my least favourite song, is just Green, his guitar and a bit of violin. This song is sandwiched between the rockier, Fragile Bird and the darker O’Sister, which while not a “rock” tune, has a little more drive. And I guess that is the problem I had with Northern Wind, it seemed to bring the momentum built up from the previous song to a screeching halt for me. Weightless more than makes up for this brief interlude with a sound that is reminiscent of Alexisonfire. Heavier rock guitars, a behind-the-beat pull and a vocal performance that reminded me of This Could be Anywhere in the World make this song a stand-out and maybe my personal favourite.

Little Hell is available on iTunes, Amazon and Maple Music where you can also get a 12″ double vinyl edition. You can find out more information on City and Colour’s website, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube and Soundcloud pages.

City and Colour – Fragile Bird

Warning: Brief nudity so it might not be safe for family viewing or work:

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