City and Colour — The Love Still Held Me Near
“It ain’t enough just to be alive. We’ve got to lean into the love a little before we die.”
Canadian alt-folk artist Dallas Green of City and Colour sings this on “Underground,” a song about coping with loss and taking each day as a gift, forgiving the “wasted days spent running from ourselves.”
This song sets the tone for The Love Still Held Me Near, City and Colour’s seventh studio album. Like many of us, for Green, these last few years have been heart-wrenching. In 2019, he lost two of his closest friends in separate tragedies, and then the pandemic hit. Death – and his own mortality – have been on his mind, and he doesn’t shy away from it. Composing songs to process his grief, Green created his most powerful album yet, one as gorgeous, dark and emotionally striking as Jeff Buckley’s Grace. Co-producer and multi-instrumentalist band member Matt Kelly deserves a lot of credit for this, as does Jacquire King (Tom Waits, Modest Mouse, Kings of Leon), who mixed the album.
Green is working through immensely difficult feelings. All his walls are broken down. Some of these songs, such as “A Little Mercy,” sound like reminders to one self, but they also serve as healing anthems, helping others who share the tribulations. As he swoons on “A Little Mercy,” Green knows he’s not alone. He’s talking to himself, but he’s also there for others clutching the depths of despair. I’ve suffered loss and other hardships during these times, and The Love Still Held Me Near resonates and inspires. Perhaps no song does this as much as “A Little Mercy.” Green’s vocals, and the open, hypnotic slow groove remind me of Chris Cornell’s underrated 1999 solo album, Euphoria Mourning.
Green sings of loss, heartbreak and spiritual crisis. His guitar tones – at times reminiscent of The War on Drugs – seem to single-handedly take us through the stages of grief, and I’m only referring to the opening track, “Meant to Be,” a song inspired by the shocking drowning of City and Colour producer and engineer Karl Bareham.
As you go down the track list, you approach more challenging times. On “Fucked It Up,” Green laments how the pandemic ravaged his relationship. He doesn’t pull the victim card. He doesn’t beg for a second chance. Instead, he just confronts the reality of the situation. He chooses to reflect and respond by writing a song. There’s a tremendous amount of soul work taking place on this album, which Green refers to as “a beautiful, perfect mid-life crisis.” He asks a lot of difficult questions – important ones that we all should ask ourselves. And he tries to answer as many as he can in 12 cathartic tunes.
Perhaps blues is a stage of grief, because “After Disaster” and “Without Warning” are soulful, spellbinding grooves that make you move your head back and forth: the former reminds me a little of Attack & Release Black Keys and the latter has a Stax Records vibe (Chris Stapleton also likes to feel the blues this way).
Don’t be afraid of this album. Yeah, it can get depressing, but that’s f*ckin’ life, and The Love Still Held Me Near will help you get through it. “Hard, Hard Time,” for example, has the album’s catchiest, most upbeat groove, with a bad-ass breakdown and a psychedelic guitar solo. And it only gets better, as Green sings with hardly any accompaniment, showcasing his range, not just vocally but emotionally. He sings about how no one knows what awaits us when we’re gone – that’s reason enough to give it all we have: “I’ve had a hard, hard time believing that anything on the other side/could be better than the love that you’re leaving when you close your eyes/so live your life.”
There’s a lot to live for, after all. On the airy, smooth, ambient “Bow Down to Love,” Green starts deep and only goes deeper, again letting his guitar do a lot of the psychological processing. The haunting acoustic intro reminds me of Jason Isbell’s Southeastern, and, from here, Green steps into Grace-land. By the end of this six-minute journey, where he wails like Cornell, he’s found his way to someplace more hopeful.
You will, too.
Highlights include “Meant to Be,” “A Little Mercy,” “Hard, Hard Time,” “Bow Down to Love”
The Love Still Held Me Near releases on March 31 via Still Records, an imprint of Dine Alone Records, and will be available wherever you stream. For more information, or to purchase the album on vinyl or CD, go to https://cityandcolour.com/
1 thought on “REVIEW: City and Colour, “The Love Still Held Me Near””
Nice review. Makes me want to give the album a listen, and I usually won’t go for this style ( I think).