Dallas Green has made it clear from the outset that ‘If I Should Go Before You’ isn’t like other City and Colour records. One interview even includes the bold revelation that “there isn’t a lot of acoustic guitar” on the album – but fans of his folksy sound shouldn’t be alarmed.
His wistful, longing acoustic songs haven’t been changed so much as they’ve been expanded into an echoing, all-encompassing soundscape with the help of some of his favourite musicians. Jack Lawrence of The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs is on bass, while Dan Auerbach collaborator Dante Schwebel is on guitar, The Constantines’ Doug MacGregor is on drums and Matt Kelly, who was also part of You + Me, Dallas’s project with P!nk, adds some serious atmosphere with his steel pedal guitar.
Opening track Woman – the first release from the album - is a reverb-heavy, nine-minute lament about all-encompassing, painful love, and it’s Matt’s first chance to show what he can do. Dallas’s simple vocal melody is underpinned with plaintive, echoing guitars, and is more akin to Wish You Were Here-era Floyd than anything Dallas has put out before. It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s nine minutes long; the texture builds to such a thundercloud of emotion over the course of the song that were it any shorter, it would feel unfinished.
Northern Blues gets back into familiar territory with a sing-along chorus and Dallas’s simple but poetic lyrics, while the bluesy Mizzy C has the band experimenting with a soulful, retro sound, made possible by the addition of Matt’s keys. There’s a distinctly Motown feel – Dallas is obviously relishing the opportunity to dip a toe into other genres.
Third single If I Should Go Before You is another Floydian lament, and it’s the first time the album really revisits City And Colour’s previous sound – it wouldn’t sound out of place on 2013’s The Hurry and the Harm. Dallas’s heartfelt lyrics: “If I should go before you / When that long night comes / We’ll meet in the everafter / Please don’t follow me to the sun” – have the signature softness that he’s been cultivating ever since Sometimes. This fifth album, though, is a mark of how far he’s come since his debut. There’s a grown-up insight behind his words that describes enduring love as opposed to fleeting heartbreak.
The real hallmark of the new, wise Dallas 2.0 is, without a doubt, Wasted Love. It’s the album’s second-shortest track, but it packs heaps of sexiness into its two minutes and 58 seconds as Dallas sings of being “tied down on the floor / like a prisoner of war”. Metaphorically, of course. Alongside the experimental Woman, it’s probably the best track, and a stellar piece of upbeat soul from the band. After that, the new, bombastic sound goes momentarily downhill. Runaway, with its slide guitar, is more CMA Awards, and probably the only point in City And Colour’s catalogue that you could come close to accusing him of being cheesy.
The stripped-back Friends puts things solidly back on track, as Dallas returns to his bittersweet best with reflective lyrics juxtaposed with an uplifting, major melody, but it’s on the closing track Blood that he really returns to his roots. Yes, that does mean he finally brings out the acoustic guitar.
Bar one track, Dallas’s new musical direction is a triumph, and proves that City and Colour is capable of evolving without straying completely from its core sound. It’ll surprise fans, but it definitely won’t disappoint.