City And Colour’s—or Alexisonfire’s—Dallas Green has musically ventured out on his own for the third time. Green steps out a bit farther from the work on his previous releases and becomes more comfortable in his own solo skin with his most recent album, Little Hell, literally taking his musical influences and amplifying them.
“We Found Each Other In The Dark” opens the album on Green’s usual formula—soft, beautiful melodies and an acoustic guitar as the backbone—but then adds brushes against drumskins and bending electric guitar notes. “The Grand Optimist” is more blues-driven with deep twangy guitars in the beginning, then blending in heavy echoing keyboards with Green’s chilling gospel-like delivery.
Lyrically, the album is a snapshot of Green’s personal trials. Title track “Little Hell” celebrates the ups and downs in love, set to the background of a full plugged-in backing band complete with bass and drums. “Fragile Bird” has an indie-rock spin with a funky fuzzed-out guitar, but like everything Green does, it still has soulful sincerity. The acoustic ballad “Northern Wind” is what Green does best, quiet enough that you can hear fingers sliding against guitar strings, and soft cello adds dimension. “Sorrowing Man” broods and sways, and the chorus of “Silver And Gold” (“Everything I loved and fear had all at once disappeared”) is drenched in haunting uncertainty. The album closes on “Hope For Now,” with inward, self-critical yet hopeful lyrics (“How can I instill such hope but be left with none of my own?/What if I could sing just one song and it might save somebody’s life?”) and musically aching, driven piano notes giving way to distorted guitar solos and shimmering drum cymbals.
Progression is Green’s forte, starting out with nothing but his voice and an acoustic guitar on 2005’s Sometimes, then building with soft drums and harmonica flourishes on 2008’s Bring Me Your Love. Fans of City And Colour’s previous albums will recognize the folk, indie-rock, country and blues influences, but these ideas are fully developed through Little Hell’s production. Producer Alex Newport (Death Cab For Cutie, Mars Volta) captures a more complete and complex sound with lush acoustics and electric instrumentation that moves the album along, providing a live-show atmosphere recorded and mixed straight to tape. Green is no longer just a man with his guitar; he’s got the confidence to turn what started out as a side project into a fully functioning entity, mastering his role and presence as a solo artist.