By Zachary Swickey
I was more than a bit surprised when I heard Dallas Green’s subdued, piano-driven cover of his own post-hardcore outfit Alexisonfire’s “Happiness by the Kilowatt.” Despite my affinity for the band (and all things loud at the time), I much preferred Green’s melancholic rendition, which was undeniably moving. It’s not the most common thing to see a tattooed punk rocker bearing his soul with an acoustic guitar, but the toned down sensibilities of Green’s alter-ego, City & Colour, harkens back to the singer-songwriter days of Bob Dylan.
Dallas Green had been the guitarist and back-up vocalist of post-hardcore act Alexisonfire since 2001 but needed a creative outlet for the acoustic fare he’d been writing on the side since the young age of 14. Green soon began releasing a few songs for download online under the moniker City & Colour (the letter “u” gets a lot more use in Canada), which is a playful spin off his own name (Dallas is a city, Green is a color, get it?) as the singer found using his name a bit indulgent.
After compiling enough songs for a proper album, Green released his debut, Sometimes, in November 2005 to critical acclaim – garnering the Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent to a Grammy) for Alternative Album of the Year. The album beautifully showcased Green’s songwriting abilities with its two singles – “Save Your Scissors” and “Comin’ Home” – as both paint vivid imagery in your mind through Green’s storytelling.
Without time for rest, Green hauled back to Alexisonfire to record their third studio album, Crisis, which was released in August 2006. Known for being vagabonds with a relentless touring schedule, the group found themselves on the road for the majority of 2007 before Green was able work on City & Colour once again.
The sophomore effort from City & Colour, Bring Me Your Love, was released on February 12, 2008, and featured an expansion on the stripped-down acoustic sound that was found on its debut. The addition of occasional harmonica, bass, keyboards, mandolin and banjo (all played by Green) had the album leaning more towards the folk side.
“The Girl” comes off as a beautiful and heartfelt love letter in which Green thanks a woman (presumably his charming wife, Leah Miller, a Canadian VJ for MuchMusic) for her love despite the fact that he’s frequently on the road. “While I’m off chasing my own dreams, Sailing around the world / Please know that I’m yours to keep, My beautiful girl,” he sings. The slow “As Much As I Ever Could” opens with some magical harmonizing and while one of the most subdued tracks, it’s easily one of the most powerful as Green softly croons, “Bring me your love, tonight.”
Once again, Green went back to Alexisonfire and in June 2009 the group released their fourth album, Old Crows / Young Cardinals. After subsequent touring, a year later the group released what would be their last effort, Dog’s Blood, an EP of four experimental songs that didn’t quite fit into any of the group’s previous albums.
Yet again, Green hit the studio on his own to record City & Colour’s newest effort, Little Hell. Released in June, City & Colour’s third album is arguably his most ambitious disc to date. Further expanding his sound, there’s even a bouncy number, “Fragile Bird,” the album’s first single, which features one of the catchiest guitar licks that Green has ever written. “Sorrowing Man” is accented wonderfully through Green’s heavy use of a Wurlitzer (an electric organ or piano), and I would’ve mistaken the song for a classic rock tune if I didn’t know any better.
Just a few weeks ago, Green made the announcement that he has left Alexisonfire (who have since disbanded altogether) in order to focus solely on his work as City & Colour. While it came as no surprise, it was shocking to hear that he had informed his bandmates of this decision way back in 2010, but they asked him to refrain from any announcements until they knew how they would proceed without him.
There’s an honest integrity to Green’s work that is missing from a lot of today’s music scene. Few artists wear their heart on their sleeve so boldly, but Green has no problem writing songs that read like a personal diary. With Alexisonfire officially six feet under, Green no longer has to worry about juggling two bands, which allows the man some much needed rest. Not just yet though, as City & Colour has plenty of touring booked for 2011, including Europe, a fall stateside tour and an appearance at this weekend’s Austin City Limits Music Festival.