Dallas Green has the kind of voice that you can listen to with your entire body. Sure, the sound waves enter through your ears, but they seismically extend in all directions from the point of admission. The latest documentation of this sensation comes in the form of the fifth studio album from Green’s project City and Colour: an elegant play-on-words of his full name. The album If I Should Go Before You off of Dine Alone Records marks a new direction for the project as well as what seems to be Green’s vocal prime.
The album opens with an ambient and slightly trippy grouping of effected guitar tones that eventually tie into each other in a rhythmic blanket for the cold-blooded falsetto in the opener “Woman” that Dallas Green is introduced with. His smooth, smooth voice is charming as it simmers in and out of the mix like your breath becoming invisible on a damp morning. He repeats the same verse again with a slightly more powerful chest voice as the beat becomes steadier, the guitar tones more coherent, and the bass groove more prominent. The wah-wah guitar effect in the right side of the stereo is reminiscent of good old-fashioned rock n’ roll. In accordance with the ambience of the background tones, you can hear Green whale out a few flying high notes, undoubtedly a product of his vocal influences like Jeff Buckley: a representative of unfathomably strong and lucid vocals. This opener makes me lose track of time: Nine minutes pass like it’s nothing, and all of a sudden, the mix reverts back into the trippy and ambient guitar tones it came in with.
While previous City and Colour albums carried instrumentations by mostly Green himself, along with a vast assortment of guest musicians to fill in the blank spaces, If I Should Go Before You features the players in Green’s touring band. This is important because the band was already incredibly tight with each other, just by sheer muscle memory. This tightness is absolutely audible in the album, in ways that shine a little bit brighter than in City and Colour’s previous releases like Little Hell and The Hurry and the Harm.
With this tightness in mind, on the third track “Mizzy C,” the group executes a wonderfully feel-good transition from the song’s bouncy and staggered verse to the catchy chorus, highlighted by a walk-down on the organ by pianist Mathew Kelly that downright sucks me into the refrain. The way these musicians, also including Dante Schwebel on the guitar, Jack Lawrence on the bass, and Doug MacGregor on the drums steadily drive the music arranged for this album provides an essentially indispensable springboard for Dallas Green’s vocals to come through with the best possible quality.
The title track of the record deals with City and Colour’s recurring theme of the inevitable. As the title would indicate, the lyrics are a promise, presumably from one lover to the other; to reunite in whatever afterlife they find each other in. This is the speaker’s assurance of Always and Forever to his listener if he were to find himself in another world, and his guarantee that the person whom he is speaking this to will never be deserted. He declares, “I’ll leave my ghost right behind you; you won’t have to wait alone,” confident in the promise he’s making. The prophetic literature that composes these lyrics remind me of Bob Dylan with a little less metaphor; it’s in the way both writers have a way of predicting a predestined future.
Here is Dallas Green performing “If I Should Go Before You” for Strombo Sessions:
The overall mood of If I Should Go Before You diverts from the previous works of City and Colour in that many tracks in the new record contain an upbeat and funky vibe that the band now seems to identify with. Although the band’s tightness is noticeably superior to other C&C albums, the new groove almost adds a poppy element that I am not too fanatic about. The tracks “Killing Time” and “Wasted Love” are illustrative of this point. These songs are still enjoyable, but they steer in the direction opposite of everything I adore so much about City and Colour.
In the past, Dallas Green consistently employed a type of emotion through his songwriting that painted melancholy portraits of someone lamenting out of an open window at midnight: this is the emotion that invited me into City and Colour’s music in the first place, present in some of my favorite tracks like “Of Space and Time” and “Paradise” off of the 2013 release The Hurry and the Harm. These tracks contain an elevated level of an essential honesty that I believe makes Dallas Green special. It seems like now there is an enhanced focus on the catchiness of melodies and of the production quality of the record, which is in no way a bad thing, however there is a present prospect of these elements taking away from the rectitude of Green’s composing.
The album draws me back in with the penultimate tune “Friends”, which expresses a certain vulnerability that is always respectable in any lyricist. Green speaks of hoping for “just an ounce of confidence to offer myself some sort of congratulations,” a lyric that is easily relatable in this day in age when it’s tough to be a human. This is the vulnerable and emotional type of lyric that I wish filled If I Should Go Before You to the very brim. The song concludes with an encompassing build-up that that ends abruptly and leaves the listener hanging.
The grand finale “Blood” can be seen as the opposite side of the City and Colour Palette from the introductory track. The theme of “Blood” is defined by the stripped down and bare motif of acoustic guitar pickings and reverberated melody. In terms of production, this track in particular plays with the stereo paths of the vocals, as the mix becomes more intense, complementing the eerie vibe Green crafts.
This LP is enjoyable: it prompts plentiful amounts of head-bobbing, seat-dancing, and air-drumming, and re-establishes Dallas Green’s singing chops as prominent among modern vocalists. His voice is unquestionably strong this time around, his tone is on-point, and his range is as impressive as ever. Along with Green’s strength, his backing band provides an outstandingly steady, groovy, and composed beat that has not yet been implemented this well in a City and Colour album. That being said, it is easy to tune out some of the middle tracks in the album. The beat becomes slightly repetitive, and Green’s notes start to blend together. There is a lack of bedroom musician-ness (see In Bed With Jason) that used to be much more prominent in Green’s songwriting. I couldn’t quite find this in If I Should Go Before You, save for the final track “Blood.” Along with this song, some standouts include “Woman”, “Mizzy C”, “If I Should Go Before You”, and “Friends”.
Despite a different direction taken by City and Colour, it will take a lot for me to dislike Dallas Green. He presents an outrageously impressive amount of talent, and has the ability to carry chills down my spine seismically in the direction his voice travels.
JASON McCUE | Captain Chill | KXSU Reporter