Alexisonfire frontman Dallas Green has made quite a name for himself as a solo, folk-inspired act under the City and Colour moniker over the last several years. While his long-awaited third studio album, “Little Hell,” marks a bit of a departure in sound from either “Sometimes” or “Bring Me Your Love,” it also represents his high-water mark as a solo artist to date.
“Little Hell” opens up with “We Found Each Other In The Dark,” a slow-burning, country-inspired tune that features some solid slide guitar work. “Natural Disaster” follows, and brings more of an uptempo Wilco-esque alt-country sound with a swirling, airy feel to it that would sound like Band Of Horses if not for Green’s unmistakable tortured falsetto. While the album’s first two tracks are solid, they are somewhat nondescript. “The Grand Optimist” finds “Little Hell” hitting its stride for the first time. The track starts with just Dallas and an acoustic guitar before more of a full band joins at about the halfway mark. The haunting chime and piano combination gives the background of the latter half of the song the feel of a funeral march. Green’s voice on the song’s one-line chorus of “I guess I take after my mother” sounds alarmingly self-aware and self-deprecating.
That self awareness and self-deprecation carry through much of the remainder of the album. As an album, “Little Hell” comes across as more intensely introspective than Green’s past City and Colour work, yet also feels more relatable as a listener. As a song, the title track is predominately an acoustic-driven ballad that features Green’s most delicate falsetto yet, which gives the song a very intimate feel, allowing lines like “There’s a haunting degree of difficulty in dealing with me/From my haunted past comes a daunting task of living through memories” a high level of poignant sincerity. “Fragile Bird,” the album’s first single, follows, and carries a Black Keys-style mellow blues/funk feel. Not a natural choice for lead single based on his past solo work, but I admire Green taking chances. This might be my favorite song on the album.
“Northern Wind” is a sparse, beautiful acoustic ballad, accented perfectly by understated cello. It is actually surprisingly positive (or at least less sad) than most of the remainder of the album. “O’ Sister” benefits from the same sort of sparse instrumentation that allows Green’s voice to drive the song hauntingly forward. The song tries to turn a negative situation somehow positive, though acknowledges the immense uphill task in doing so. “Weightless” is driven by a full band and electric guitar, and a certain swirling depth to it that would reach the rafters of an arena show. “Sorrowing Man” follows in much the same vein. “Silver and Gold” returns to the sparse nature of “O’ Sister,” again allowing Green’s voice to give the song a sort of gravity that renders a larger band accompaniment unnecessary. For lack of a better term, this is a very ‘heavy; song. You owe it to yourself to get a good pair of headphones, turn up the volume, and let this one reverberate inside your skull for a while.
“Little Hell” comes to a close with “Hope For Now,” which suffers only from its brevity. That is an interesting comment to make regarding a song that lasts just a tick under five minutes, but “Hope For Now” almost sounds like it finishes before it gets started. While understated to start, it slowly but continually builds to a crescendo that could have easily carried for another several minutes. It is well-placed at the end of the album, and should sound equally as well-placed at the end of a full band show, where hopefully it would be allowed to continue to build. You’ll know what I mean when you hear it.
All told, “Little Hell” is a great listen. As I stated above, I applaud Green for taking some chances on this album, and I think he nails each one. Few songwriters are capable of taking you on journeys that would somehow not sound out of place in either a smokey, whiskey-drenched piano bar or the swirling night sky of an outdoor amphitheater. Green proves on “Little Hell” that he is more than capable of taking you such a haunting, personal ride. Trust me when I say that you should join him for it.