Remember the first time you heard Jeff Buckley’s haunting vocals on Grace or felt R.E.M.’s emotional wallop through the arrangements of Automatic for the People? City and Colour’s The Love Still Held Me Near hits just like that. But its creation didn’t come easy at all for Dallas Green. The Ontario, Canada, singer-songwriter had to process two deaths during the making of the album. But it’s that grieving that gives The Love Still Held Me Near its heart — even as it crushes yours.
“I lost my best friend and I had, literally, stared death in the face. It just makes you go over everything,” says Green, who weathered the 2019 drowning of his longtime producer Karl Bareham while on tour together in Australia and, then, the passing of his cousin. Those profound personal losses became something universal when Green sat down to write tracks like the searching “Meant to Be” for The Love Still Held Me Near, his seventh studio project recorded under the mantle of City and Colour, an allusion to Green’s first and last names.
“When I started writing, I was digging into these emotions I had been holding onto and it all started to unfurl. Now I’m writing about God, and I’m writing about my whole life. I’m writing about these things I’ve been questioning and understanding that it wasn’t singular to me,” he says. “That was the ‘a-ha’ moment — that I can ruminate on all these things and write myself out of my own head, but if I broaden the scope a little bit and make something beautiful out of my pain, then it moves on. It grows wings and then it maybe can resonate with somebody else.”
For all the grief that informs the album, as well as some marital strife between Green and his wife (they’ve since reconciled), The Love Still Held Me Near is a comforting record. For those who’ve dealt with loss during the pandemic, or even well before it, the 12 tracks are restorative balms that encourage you to cry, yell, or in some cases laugh at our tragicomic existence.
“We’ve had everything we wanted, then we fucked it up,” Green sings in his falsetto in the chorus to “Fucked It Up,” a song he admits made him snicker when it came to him one night. “I thought, ‘I can’t say that,’ but then I just sort of leaned into it.”
Leaning into unconventional creative approaches has served Green well over the course of his career. While he remains a bit of a mystery to American fans, in his native Canada he’s regarded for his musical diversity. In 2001, he co-founded the punk-and-hardcore group Alexisonfire, balancing out singer George Pettit’s screamo vocals with his own haunting Buckley-esque croon. The band became shout-along heroes, played the Warped Tour, broke up, and recently reunited.
In 2014, during Alexisonfire’s break, he teamed up with pop star Pink to release an album of folk songs as You+Me. Green says another one may be on the way: “We’ve got about eight songs recorded. I leave it up to the mercy of the giant machine that is her life, but we all talk about it as something that we’ll always be able to do.”
Yet Green was writing folksy, introspective songs well before teaming up with Pink. During Alexisonfire’s original run, he launched City and Colour. It was an outlet for him to explore hushed tones and look further inward, similar to the singer-songwriter path of hardcore alumni like Chuck Ragan of Hot Water Music, with whom Alexisonfire toured in 2004.
“When Alexis started, I wanted to be in a band that I could scream my head off and run around and enjoy the camaraderie of being in a group and being in the van and all that. But there was always this other thing that I was doing, writing these other types of songs, and I assumed I’d pivot back to this when I got older. But really I was doing it at the exact same time,” says Green, 43. He adds that touring with Ragan helped validate his emo tendencies. “Meeting Chuck and seeing how passionate of a person he is, it was like he’s one of the signal posts I can look to to say, ‘This guy’s wearing his heart on his sleeve and he’s giving it everything he’s got, and he’s being vulnerable.’”
Recording as City and Colour, Green is nothing but vulnerable. In first single “Meant to Be,” he calls back to his Catholic upbringing and, to those raised in Catholicism, does the unthinkable: dares to question it. “When I grew up I had big city dreams/I wondered if the Bible was wrong/what the hell were they teaching me?” he sings. “It’s hard to shed a lot of that stuff you’re taught,” he says now.
But perhaps shedding baggage, be it strict religious doctrine or the specter of unspeakable tragedy, is not the intention. Listening to The Love Still Held Me Near, Green suggests it’s more about making peace with it all — and carrying on.
“It’s about the realization that you do have to live your life” he says, “to honor the people that are not here.”
City and Colour’s U.S. Tour Dates:
May 9 — Chicago @ Riviera Theatre
May 10 — Indianapolis, IN @ The Vogue
May 12 — Columbus, OH @ Kemba Live!
May 13 — Richmond, VA @ The National
May 15 — Philadelphia @ Franklin Music Hall
May 16 — Washington, D.C. @ Warner Theatre
May 17 — Boston @ Roadrunner
May 19 — New York @ Beacon Theatre
May 20 — Portland, ME @ State Theatre
May 21 — Ithaca, NY @ State Theatre