As we approach the setting sun of the folk renaissance, it is easy to look back at the work of Canadian songwriter City And Colour and all that he’s accomplished within the once vibrant scene. With four albums proving his worth, beginning at the youthful age of 16 years old, this has been his life, releasing his first album all the way back in 2005.
His “dynamically gentle and vulnerable” style has morphed yet strengthened along his path to musical discovery and success. Despite fronting his simplified acoustic persona, he has incorporated new instruments in his succession of albums and thus cemented his place within the folk world. The release of fifth album If I Should Go Before You, potentially marks the most dramatic next chapter for Dallas Green.
Despite acting as one of the leading front runners of the folk scene, with his powerful vocal flexibility and intense energy engaging through his emotively moving and heart-breaking stories, this album continues to capitalise on these dark underlying features, incorporating an element of loss and regret, but shifts the style of music to incorporate other genres.
The heavy riffs of old, are now channelled to the listener via powerful electric guitar lines from a blues rock band noise. This is because he is certainly not alone in this album, involving the help of other musicians he bravely travels into the unknown. Will you follow him? Whether or not you’re willing to accept his change, one must respect this man’s integrity as he’s willing to abandon his ‘lone ranger’ tendencies to pursue ambitions that can only be achieved with unity.
Green’s soothing sounds are muted by the beautifully structured electric mess performed in his first track “Woman”. Track time lasting a whopping 9 minutes 16 seconds, this song is not for the feint hearted. In fact, speaking about the length, Green adds “I will be honest with you; we had a 30 minute version. I wasn’t looking to do an epic song, I just wanted to have fun with the band in that very selfish, very self-indulgent way”.
The mood is securely set straight from its dark intro, this moody yet controlled sound builds incorporating a distorted electronic guitar implying Green has entered the progressive rock world. His vocals eventually come in, bringing with it powerful philosophical lyrics. It might be hard to appreciate the beauty for the classic acoustic lovers, but I can assure you, his soul is very much alive and present in this track. “Northern Blues” strongly confirms his use of modern blues, with a brooding staccato guitar line accompanying the vocals of Green’s journeyman’s alias.
Despite “Mizzy C” presenting Green’s vocals in a most impressive high frequency and calibre fashion, it is in title track “If I Should Go Before You” in which the emotive character shines through his voice. Talking about the track, he reconfirms: “I have tried many times to write happy songs but I don’t think that’s what I am here for”. This slow number tests your bottom lip as it connects the blues songs of past eras, commenting on the powerful melancholy theme of loss and death.
The keyboard tones and vintage guitar riffs of “Killing Time” offers a little breath of fresh air from the sombre title track which you just slogged through. It’s nice to hear a bit of versatility within the album with this straight up funky ballad. However, the most up-beat track on the record goes to “Runaway”. This album certainly goes on a welcomed tangent with this twangy country guitar track. Sunshine beams through Green’s lingering dark cloud as an inspirationally powerful chorus and major-key guitar work harmoniously surprise the listener.
Nevertheless, if you have got to this point of the album still waiting for City And Colour’s acoustic prowess, don’t skip his song “Map Of The World” as this resembles his earlier style of music, allowing you die-hard fans of old to reminisce and appreciate the immortality of his sound which seeps through his new style. Slightly less up-beat, but his classic sound re-emerges once more with the final track “Blood”. This ballad is atmospheric and sparse, incorporating solemn harmony between Green and his backing vocals, which seems altogether very fitting for a conclusion.
If I Should Go Before You is an album full of surprises. For the lifelong City and Colour listeners, some may be welcomed and some may be ignored. Nonetheless, this 5th chapter of the Canadian’s musical journey facilitates a refined, mature shift sound allowing Green to embrace a new form of energy which must be heard! City And Colour’s If I Should Go Before You is out now via Dine Alone Music, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Finn Brownbill