What If I Could Sing One Song? - City and Colour's Little Hell Album Review
To give a positive review of an artist’s music by saying it was the soundtrack to the passing of my grandfather may sound a bit off kilter, but that’s exactly how I felt about City And Colour’s sophomore effort, Bring Me Your Love. The soul-searching, mortality-related lyrics of the timely “Body in a Box,” the mellow, picking guitar and dulcet vocals of the entire album all sunk in as a comforting entity for me during that time. Needless to say, their music has become ingrained in certain parts of my psyche. Their most recent effort, Little Hell, was released June 7, 2011 on Vagrant records and debuted/peaked at #1 for Top Canadian Albums and #28 on the US BillBoard 200. Even though it has been out for months, due to a move and a big trip to California, I only recently devoted an expanse to listen to this album front to back multiple times. Letting it simmer this long has let it blend together like a good batch of chili and it is still worth sharing the love.
Like, Bring Me Your Love, this album was recorded at the Catherine North Studios located in Hamilton, Ontario. The cavernous layout of the converted church lends an added ethereal effect to the entire album, creating some fairly stirring moments even at the quietest time. It is an album meant to be listened to with studio headphones in front of a fire or on a decent car stereo during a night drive. Dallas Green explains the concept and title of the album on his site saying, “You have to go through those little hells to get to the really great parts of love and life.”
The opening track “We Found Each Other in the Dark” feels like it could be overheard at closing time in Bob’s Country Bunker, the bar from from Blues Brothers film — except there wouldn’t be any bottle throwing and trade the pints of Bud for PBR tallboys. It edges close to the territory of the good ole boys but remains in the confines of a soulful folk song.
The country twang of the guitar continues on “Natural Disasters,” with a little more of a driving chorus that moves the listener ahead through the album and gets a little more toe tapping than most listeners are used to with the band’s music.
“Grand Optimist” starts with a stripped down acoustic track as Green compares his sometimes negative worldview with his father’s slightly sunnier outlook. It isn’t until the chorus dives in to dark, booming bell tones and he sings, “I guess I take after my mother,” that you realize you have something a little edgier with this album.
“Fragile Bird” sees Green and his cohorts branching out even further musically with a funky groove to set the pace, and later it even wanders into a short, distortion-laden electric guitar solo.
For those worried about the departure from City and Colour’s classic “guy siting on a stool with an acoustic guitar” sound, “Northern Wind” is a great ode
with some improvements. Violin accompanies moments of the song as Green serenades “You’re the lullaby/Singing me to sleep/You are the other half/You are my missing piece,” melting hearts as he goes. This track is a great example of what he had hoped for with this album. His voice itself is an instrument, it is just so inhumanly smooth and comforting even while sashaying between ranges.
While the track “O, Sister” brings us back to mostly just Green and his guitar, the benefits of recording in a cavernous studio are displayed by every pluck and note sung that echo into the headphones.
On the flip side, “Weightless” is a flat out rock song, or at least the most rock City and Colour has been up to this point. The best part is that the more anthemic drums and guitar don’t drown out the vocals; they only serve to amplify the emotion when Green’s voice gets to concert-crescendo level with the lyrics “Bleeding all the strength from my life/Then you turn and run from me.”
The album moves on to a slow burn with “Sorrowing Man,” but slow doesn’t mean dead. The organ towards the end of the song as Green almost wails his words provides for a fairly strong effect to close out.
Twang returns ever so slightly with “Silver and Gold,” but it is brilliantly highlighted by the “other-side-of-the-room-esque” haunting female vocals that duet about a dream where all that he cares about is gone after a bomb drops. Amazingly, his golden voice manages to overwrite the depressing concept and creates a silver lining.
City and Colour saves what seems to be one of the most poignant moments of the album for the closing track “Hope for Now.” It broods along for the majority of the track as he ponders his love/hate relationship with being a touring artist. Green seems to temporarily question his fan support with, “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?” It’s with this second verse that the the sonic switch is flipped with the shred of a guitar and Green saying, “Then I would sing all that I could sing/’Cause that is when/when I feel that I’m not just counting time” while he is backed by confident, heavily distorted guitar and a loose drum beat.
Although City and Colour is first and foremost the depiction of Dallas Green’s softer, navel-gazing side, it is evident with the release of Little Hell that he is opening the door to more complex, layered music. There is no reason to panic, though, because Green’s voice will always be the frontrunner in any musical trek City and Colour ventures on.
For those that want to catch some of City and Colour’s evolved sound, Green is currently on a partially sold out tour through the UK, Canada and US. Locally, City and Colour will be playing at the Trocadero with Hacienda who had previously toured with the likes of The Black Keys, Dr. Dog and Grace Potter & the Nocturnals. The initial scheduled concert through WXPN on December 9 has sold out but a second show was added for December 8 through Radio 104.5 with tickets still remaining at this point.
Tickets for December 8 at the Trocadero Theatre:
Itunes Download of Little Hell:
Short Making of Video In Studio at Catherine North: