Review Summary: Dallas Green at his most intimate and, ultimately, most heartbreaking.
You know that awkward moment when Hayley Williams says she doesn’t think she’s really that attractive? It’s an absolutely improbable self-humility - of course
, you’re hot. Get with it. How about John Mayer, playing that that starry-eyed, tragic hero who shreds a Stratocaster in half and then coldly says, “I’m not that good at guitar and teenaged girls don’t like me that
much.” Don’t you just want to punch that creep in the face? Humility, I value. False-humility can get stuffed. Dallas Green, by all means and criteria, should be on this list too. He’s a national superstar in Canada for his work with both Alexisonfire and City and Colour and his slow but steady trickle over the borders is making him a global name. And now he’s 30, he’s just released his third solo album Little Hell
under his cleverly eponymous moniker and he still has the nerve to sing “I’m like a jack of all trades who’s a master of none.
” But no. Somehow, he’s believable. Somehow, Little Hell
ends up being Green’s most honest and intimate album yet. He still sings and writes like he’s not so sure just why everybody thinks he’s “awesome” but Little Hell
does nothing except affirm that Green only becomes more
awesome with time.
, Green is done singing empty cliches about heartbreak (I guess it helps that he’s married) and has chosen a road less travelled lyrically. ‘Fragile Bird’, the album’s one-off Black Keys homage, details his wife’s reoccurring night terrors (”all that I can do is hope she makes it through the night”
) and in ‘O’Sister’, he openly and emotionally sings of his sister’s mental illness in his most fantastic songwriting performance yet (“What have the demons done? Is it the whispering ghosts that you fear the most?
”). These deeply personal topics help create the intimacy that ultimately makes Little Hell
so unique within Green’s catalogue. ‘The Grand Optimist’, in its stripped down folk approach, enters simply with a plunky acoustic guitar, brings in a powerful Bon Iver-esque chorus and ends with Green confessing he’d “gained no strength from counting the beads on a rosary but now the wound has begun to turn
”. This is the same guy that sang the cliche “I’ve been known to fall in love but sometimes love just isn’t enough
” three years ago. Sure, his honesty was convincing then but now he’s got the words to back up his emotion. In spades.
Yet not only has he expanded himself lyrically, he’s musically more creative than ever. It turns out, he’s a jack of all trades and a master of... well, all of them.
Obvious cuts like ‘Fragile Bird’ and ‘Weightless’ stray far from Green’s folksy roots with a complete absence of acoustic guitar but more than make up for it with their strong hooks and creative instrumentation. ‘Weightless’ has a confident, almost-bluesy bounce that, when accompanied by Green’s always incredible voice, competes with any claims that ‘Hello, I’m In Delaware’ was the best thing he could do. And while the folkier, stripped-down approaches we met on 2008’s Bring Me Your Love
are still in tact in songs like ‘Silver and Gold’, ‘Northern Wind’ and ‘O’Sister’, Green also manages to write some fantastic mid-tempo songs that sit comfortably somewhere between his energy and his recluse. Steel guitar and piano help opener ‘We Found Each Other in the Dark’ flow almost voluptuously above the reverb-soaked drums while Green’s vocals, more than ever, kind of just drip off the entire thing like honey. It’s amazingly slick. ‘Natural Disaster’ and closer ‘Hope For Now’ are a little less subtle - the former bounces along carelessly like some corny Decemberists song while the latter burns slowly on a keyboard-lick before exploding into an engrossing bomb of feedback, humming distortion, and almost post-rock like heavy atmosphere. It’s more bombast than we’re used from the City and Colour brand but it’s a very welcome change of pace.
But yes, at the end of all roads, the reason why Green is even famous in the first place is still his angelic voice and, rest assured, it’s gone nowhere. ‘Sorrowing Man’, another mid-tempo stroke of genius is typical Green melancholy but the man manages to stretch his voice to part of his range we haven’t heard since Alexisonfire’s Watch Out!
in 2004. His harrowing vocal performance in ‘O’Sister’ is enough to affect any lister, let alone the song’s subject matter. I mean, ‘Little Hell’ is absolutely commanded
by Green’s voice - he’s reached the point in which he can sing a beautifully simple melody and make it sound like heaven just by being him
. Yet, like I said, this is a man who attests to not understanding what makes his work so engrossing. I honestly hope he listens to Little Hell
a couple of times and just feels proud of it. It’s by far the best work he’s put out in his life and one of the most enveloping things to come out this year.
He sings in ‘Hope For Now’, “How can I instill such hope but be left with none of my own?
” I don’t know, Mr. Green. I really don’t know.