Photo by Vanessa Heins
City & Colour
The Love Still Held Me Near
March 31st 2023
Still Records (imprint of Dine Alone Records)
There is something about going through traumatic times that really helps singers and songwriters dig deep into their souls and break down the walls to show their most vulnerable sides. In City & Colour’s first album in four years, ‘The Love Still Held Me Near’, is exactly what the main man, Dallas Green has certainly done.
There is an overall theme of loss throughout the record but also turning that loss into something positive and use it to transform your view and the way you live. Dallas used song writing to deal with the losses of his best friend Karl ‘Horse’ Bareham, his cousin and with his marriage being seemingly over all in the space of a year. He truly delved deep, wore his heart on his sleeve and left is soul bare on this album.
‘The Love Still Held Me Near’, was beautifully produced by Green and his long-time friend/band mate multi-instrumentalist Matt Kelly. I feel like this album starts and ends as if there is a full story in-between, you feel every high and every low of Dallas’ past few years through both the musicality of the instruments and soulfulness of his voice. The way the full band - made up of guitarist John Sponarski, Bassist Erik Nielsen, drummer Leon Power and of course Matt Kelly, connects through each song, you would think they had been doing this together for decades, but this is the first release with this line-up.
It all starts and ends with their much loved and missed friend, Horse. With the opening track ‘Meant To Be’, giving you an insight to Dallas’ struggles with coming to terms with a sudden passing and how he questioned how any of this could possibly be just “meant to be”? To me, the first part of the record deals with questions and asking why all of this is happening but towards the end, it seems like there is an acceptance and even though it’s not the way it should be, it is all for a reason. It is a song that many of us can relate to, more so with everything we have had to come to terms with over the last few years. Whenever the verse of “Like a mother bird…” starts, it just covers me in goosebumps, you can just feel the pain and longing in Dallas’ voice.
Throughout, there is plenty of references to how a new day will always bring brightness and one step further on.
“Then the morning came, and the sun started rising. But I was missing my friend. So, how do I carry on?”
‘Undergound’ shows Dallas going back to his more acoustic roots with him on acoustic and Johnny taking over with his bluesy tinged electric notes and chords. Through this song, you can already see the acceptance coming through and learning to treat each day as a gift and not to take any of it for granted. City & Colour has a knack of turning sad songs into something that puts a smile on your face and this is one of those tracks.
Each song perfectly paints a picture of how Dallas views the world and how he is feeling in that moment, there is no need to guess what he is trying to convey in these songs. With each release it shows just how much City & Colour’s sound and style is evolving, something that is touched on in some lyrics.
The lyrics “I’m gonna do some transforming and you won’t recognise me.” From ‘After Disaster,’ sums up the new direction that has been taken while writing and recording the latest release. Dallas has always been known to have the voice of an angel but there is a much more powerful soulful and sometimes even gospel-esque tone to his vocals. You can really feel the emotion in every single line, nothing has been held back and everything is just raw. It is like riding the waves of every emotion, all the highs and the lows.
With a more country / blues fuelled guitars, this release brings something a little different from earlier releases but still has that staple City & Colour sound that is reminiscent of the early days.
A standout track for me has got to be, “A Little Mercy”, it feels like a mixture of Weightless and Fragile Bird but with a makeover. It is also a little reminiscent of Dallas’s love song to Alexisonfire, “World Stops Turning.” The music just seems to beautifully swirl around the vocals to create this incredible track showing off each musician’s talents. This track also reverts back to the recurring theme of light - “But I know the beauty lies in the dawn’s early light”.
Each track on The Love Still Held Me Near clearly lets you in to the heartbreak that consumed the band for a time. It also teaches you that through those times, yes you can fuck things up and yes, everything can go wrong but there is always something or someone who pulls you back to living.
To finish off this whirlwind of emotions, it goes full circle and ends as they started, with a toast to Horse and the song, “Begin Again”. Although still caught up in the grief and mourning, there is the overall acceptance of believing there will be a reunion some day.
They say joy will come,
Along with the morning sun
But it’s starless tonight,
And this grief it weighs a ton
I know this world
Was more than you could bare
Save me a seat at your table
And I will meet you there
But I loved you once
And I will love you again
I knew you as you were
And I’ve come to understand
Leave the worry a little while
Take my healing hand
When all is said and done
We will begin again
It is just such a magical album from start to finish, from the production of it to the arrangement of the music and the vocals. Dallas and Matt’s vocals particularly shine beautifully together in ‘Meant to Be.’
I am more than sure that there will be a few tears shed by many when listening to this record. All albums should be listened from start to finish but this is truly one of those where you turn the shuffle off, sit back, relax, press play and let it all in.
Little extras -
When it was announced that there was going to be a new City & Colour album , I was beyond excited and one way I deal with my anxiety/energy is by drawing or making things so I did a little drawing and also engraved a glass based on the image Vanessa Heins took of Dallas for the cover of the album. They're available on auldcrowsart.co.uk