In music, it’s a fine line between insightful and pretentious. And, as indicated by the handful of notable “lit-rock” bands out there (The Decemberists, Death Cab For Cutie, among others), it’s a line easily crossed. City and Colour, the pseudonym for Canadian singer/songwriter Dallas Green, expertly nails insight and avoids pretense on “Little Hell,” City and Colour’s beautiful third album.
While “Little Hell” reached No. 1 on the Canadian charts, it hasn’t fared nearly as well in the states, peaking at No. 28 overall and No. 7 on the indie charts. It’s a shame, too, because “Little Hell” is a deeply satisfying, widely appealing 11 song set, displaying a level of patience, insight and balance rarely heard by any artist, Canadian, American or otherwise.
The word balance sums up “Little Hell” pretty well. While most of the tracks are acoustic-based folk, Green tastefully applies other splashes — reverb-drenched electric guitar, organ, elegant harmonizing vocal melodies — when needed. Green even ditches his acoustic on a few numbers, plugging in on “Weightless,” a simmering groove with the the blues swagger of The Black Keys and vocal elegance of Local Natives.
On the album, recorded in a church-turned-studio of a deceased friend, Green proves himself a master of both melody and lyrics. His breathy tenor floats and flutters effortlessly over his songs. And if he were indecipherable it would be fine; his melodies are that good. But Green’s lyrics are often as poignant as the melodies they accompany. On “Hope For Now,” Green asks, “How can I instill so much hope / But be left with none of my own? / What if I could sing just one song / And it might save somebody’s life?” The second question might seem ostentatious, but Green’s songs are moving enough for him to sincerely ask such questions.
For all the ways one could articulate what makes “Little Hell” so good, there is also an indescribable something at work here; a kind of musical magic permeating the tracks. Maybe it’s just an artist in his prime. Whatever it is, there is something on “Little Hell” that will bring listeners back for many, many listens. And even from the first listen, it’s clear that “Little Hell” is anything but.
Artist: City And Colour
Album: Little Hell
Listen to Hope for Now from City and Colour’s new album: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQF6LAa2ff0