Canadian singer songwriter Dallas Green adopted the moniker City and Colour as a twist on his name. He figured it was a droll way to duck confronting his name on the front of album covers. A few things have changed since Green’s fourth City and Colour outing, the 2013 release “The Hurry and the Harm”. Since that release Green has relocated his family to Nashville Tennessee and fleshed out a complete band lineup to surround his exceptional musical offerings. On October 9th the band released “If I Should Go Before You” a sublime collection of ballads, yearning confessionals, southern soul and moody rock distortion.
“If I Should Go Before You” is the fifth release from Dallas Green who has been writing songs since he was 14. Prior to the Green’s manifestation as City and Colour he was the lead singer of Alexisonfire who were a hardcore, punk, screamo band with a sizable following in Canada. For a time Green split his time between the two incarnations but in 2011 he decided after three City and Colour albums to leave Alexisonfire to concentrate on his solo career. His releases up until that point were the 2005 debut “Sometimes”, 2008’s “Bring Me Your Love”, and 2010’s “Little Hell”. Green has attained significant fame in his native Canada where he has reached platinum status with all of his solo albums. His last album “The Hurry and The Harm” made a dent on the US Charts reached #16. He has three Juno awards to his credit; Songwriter of the Year in both 2009 and 2010 and a 2007 Alternative album award for “Sometimes”. In addition he has released a number of live albums that have emphasized his great talents in live venues. Touring throughout Europe and America has gained him a significant fan following.
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“If I Should Go Before You” was recorded in Nashville, TN at Blackbird Studios. Green realized a life long dream of producing the album himself. He worked with engineer Karl Bareham and mixer Jaquire King. Before the formation of his current band, Green had rotated in a number of Canadian indie rock musicians such as Daniel Romano and Spencer Burton to flesh out his sound. His newly defined band line up contains veteran musicians; bassist Jack Lawrence from the Greenhorns and Raconteurs, guitarist Dante Schwebel from Dead Weather and Spanish Gold, Drummer Doug MacGregor from the Constantines and multi instrumentalist Matt Kelly. As Green has stated, “my goal was always to have, for lack of a better term, a shit hot band.” Having finally established his band lineup Green found he was inspired by the band, “I don’t think I wrote these songs for the band per se, but I certainly wrote them because of the band.”
Much is being made of Green’s decision to go with a full band and a more rock sound versus his trademark acoustical renderings. Some long term fans have mixed feelings about Green going “full on electric”. Upon listening to the album it is easy to conclude that the addition of the band allows Green a larger musical palette with which to create his music. “If I Should Go Before You” is an exceptional offering that does not abandon what came before but looks to wider horizons. “If I Should Go Before You” starts off with the opus “Woman” which weighs in at 9:17 in length. The song is both plaintive and beautiful. Green’s voice is such a feature he could sing the song book and it would sound spectacular. Here he is clearly singing his adoration of said woman; “Woman you love is never-ending like a sea wind on the shore.” Sonically the song is a declaration of where Green with a band desires to go this time around.
The mid tempo number “Northern Blues” has a great rhythm that drives the song. Green’s vocal is enhanced by the fully fleshed out band. Here he stays true to his thematic wheelhouse which tends to dwell on the darker edge of introspection but always while yearning for something better. The song has just the right amount trademark Canadian cool. The song “Mizzy C.” has a splendid bluesy guitar and is a song very reminiscent of Green’s work on “Bring Me Your Love” only electrified. The song loses nothing in that transition and only gains. It is a great soul filled song with all of City and Colour’s signature sound.
The title song, “If I Should Go Before You” is a deconstructed waltz that contains a difficult request to a lover. The song discusses Green dying before his lover. At first Green tells his lover to move on and seek out love again. However his true desire is for his lover to wait for him until they meet again on the other side; “If I should go before you, into the great unknown I’ll leave my ghost right beside you, you won’t have to wait alone…Our endless love will remain until we meet again.” The lyrics point out one of life’s ultimate emotional contradictions what one should say and what one really wants. It is a fantastically haunting song dealing with a timeless conundrum.
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“Killing Time” is a melancholy contemplation about time and its passing. It expresses the inherent frustrations and fear of just spinning your wheels and getting nowhere. One of the highlights of the tune is the superb guitar work. The song really gets going in the second half when Green lets loose his powerful vocals.
“Wasted Love” is a confessional about a failed love. It has a more rock feel reminiscent of the songs on “Little Hell”. The song is catchy and Green and Co are as convincing on the fast tempo tunes as they are on the gripping ballads he is so renown for releasing. “Runaway” Is a country flavored song along the lines of “Little Hell’s Great Optimist”. The lap steel work is solid and a truly apt addition to the song. The motif of the song is running away from the things that get in the way of the joy in a relationship, escapism at its best. There is also a fantastic jam out at the end of the song. “Lover Come Back” continues with the country rock feel and lap steel. This selection is reminiscent of a Van Morrison song with spectacular organ work. The song beckons for a lover to return with the touching lyric, “Love come back to me, will you ever come back to me? How could I have been so foolish to let you leave?”
City and Colour songs are always growers that soak into your brain and you come to treasure them more and more with each listen. The song “Map of the World” is definitely the grower of the album with a great acoustic guitar and piano in the forefront. It is certainly up to the City and Colour standard offering compelling lyrics and accompaniment.
“Friends” is a full display of Green’s amazing heartfelt songwriting. This ballad is an ode to his musical family and speaks to his love of music making and his band filled full of his friends. It is confessional in nature and a real standout on the album. On the final track “Blood” Green’s acoustic roots come to the surface with a beautiful, evocative song. It is stirring and haunting as it discusses the hopelessness of good intentions. “All hopes fail, they lie between the wish and the well.” It is a glorious send off to another excellent album.
It is always a treat when Dallas Green releases a City and Colour album and this time is no different. Green is such a great lyricist that his final surrender to a fully fleshed out band only enhances his songwriting. Green meets the current challenge as he raises the stakes never satisfied with resting on his prior accomplishments. There was a massive risk in stepping away from his prior acoustic incarnation, but “If I Should Go Before You” shows it was a risk worth taking. You have to admire his wiliness to buck the status quo. It should reap rewards because as history has revealed enduring artists are smart enough to embrace change and usually succeed.