At first, great as Sometimes was, it was hard to shake off Dallas Green's musical standing as "that dude who’s not the shouty one in Alexisonfire”, but with each release, City and Colour has graduated from existing as a more understated solo project, to thriving as a well rounded second project. Having said that, Green has brought a strong and consistent personality to each of the albums – he is an emotional rollercoaster that prefers to travel in a straight line rather than revelling in a multitude of corkscrew loops and vertical drops – and with Little Hell we are still on familiar territory in that respect.
To those who have Dallas Green pegged as the king of heartbreak for whom “love just isn’t enough” and will never write anything better than ‘Hello, I’m In Delaware’, I would strongly suggest a re-evaluation. Although the lyrics, in places, can be a little cheesy, Little Hell has a markedly matured, darker tone in terms of both content and production. Each song on the album acts as a cathartic monument representing the “little hells” that we enter and exit throughout life – approaching them as inevitable challenges enabling personal growth, rather than dwelling on them as negative experiences. Without this perspective, Green could easily have ended up with a collection of songs expressing how bummed out he is about some shit or other, but from ‘Fragile Bird’ documenting his wife’s night terrors, to ‘O’ Sister’ which deals with his sister’s struggle with mental illness, Little Hell has turned out to be his most intimate album yet, narrated with unwavering sincerity.
Drawing harder on folk, country, and blues influences (particularly present on ‘Grand Optimist’ and ‘Natural Disaster’), the one-man-and-his-guitar approach still serves as a firm foundation, but overall the songs are more eclectic – stylistically and instrumentally. Bottom-heavy production resonates throughout and provides a density that supports the often grave subject matter, but one thing that will always strike as both a focal point and an inescapable presence is the vocals. With each of his releases, Alexisonfire included, Dallas Green’s voice has been a characteristic that ties together the arrangements and adds a certain “quality” to the songs – what that quality is, is hard to put your finger on, suffice to say that he could enrapture his fans just as easily if he put out an album of Justin Bieber covers (although the actual content would be lacking somewhat).
With gentle acoustic fingering that veers into a haunting full-band arrangement, the title track is undoubtedly one of the strongest, but one of the most touching is closer ‘Hope for Now’. With soft, pensive vocals and a minimal keyboard melody, this is one for the twilight hours; where time drips like Dali’s clocks and thought processes are warped, Green pushes your boat out into the night helplessly crooning “How could I instil such hope, but be left with none of my own?.”
Previously, Dallas Green kept his passion, heartache, fear, and vulnerability in tightly balled fists, and punched out his songs accordingly. With Little Hell, he has laid his hands on the table, unfolded them, and let everything tumble out, brutally exposed but tenderly arranged.