Dallas Green, formerly of Alexisonfire, returns with the fourth record from his side-turned-main project, City and Colour. He’s managed to further develop the acoustic sketches from the first two albums, expand upon the creative risks taken from album number three, and round out the edges musically, if not lyrically, on The Hurry and The Harm. Does that make it the album I finally expected? Not necessarily.
I found the rawness of his sketches on 2008’s Bring Me Your Love to be some of the most beautiful present-day folk tunes ever written. 2011’s Little Hell was a fairly different album entirely. It seemed as if some of the song writing was a bit too inward-looking. While this can be a great gift to a songwriter and to his listeners, some of the tunes that represented that body were abrasive and less relate-able in some instances, even after repeat listens.
The Hurry and The Harm comes closer to Green’s sweet spot musically, if not lyrically. It was also the goal of producer Alex Newport to surround and allow some talented musicians to flesh out these tunes as opposed to Green taking each task on himself. While his acoustic sketches are at the heart of The Hurry his hand isn’t forced to over think the very basic strengths of the songs. Unfortunately, the weight of his heavy thoughts lyrically threatens to derail the album at various points and actually does so upon the last quarter of the record.
The album opens up with guitar feedback giving way to a lazy Sunday afternoon strum on the album’s title track. ‘Harder Than Stone,’ features a string segment on the latter half that gives Green’s music great cinematic quality and reminds of band’s like The Verve or Powderfinger.
‘Of Space and Time,’ is not the first track Green has written in trying to find peace with his choice of lifestyle which, for a musician trying to establish some sort of balance when not on the road, is a constant struggle.
There’s something very Beatles-esque in the music of the verses on ‘The Lonely Life,’ where Green worries about the life of a writer ‘whose words cannot pay his debts.’
‘Paradise,’ is the standout because it doesn’t over-think anything, including the lyrics. Green, an acoustic guitar, a little percussion and a backing organ.
‘Commentators,’ is a country vagabond ditty which serves as both an affront to critics as well as a statement of fact with the line ‘I”m not trying to be revolutionary/I’m just trying to find the sweetest melody.’
‘Thirst,’ was an interesting choice for first single. Lyrically, it’s the strongest song on the album but musically, one of the weakest. The chorus hook is something Hanson could have written and the guitars in the verses bumble along like an afterthought by Collective Soul.
”Two Coins,’ takes Green’s bread and butter again, putting his acoustic guitar at the forefront and backing it up with a bed of strings carefully orchestrated. Lyrically, it juxtaposes itself against ‘Of Space and Time,’ as Green proclaims, “I’m looking for a reason/a reason not to run,’ as he impersonates a northern outlaw on the lam.
Unfortunately, this is where the album takes a turn for the worst – as in City and Colour overtly obsessing about death and all it’s friends. ‘Take Care,’ is a thoughtful musing on the brevity of life and the personal choices we make to stay within it. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen,’ is more morbid contemplation and reaches heavily into the bummer bag. ‘The Golden State,’ is another song about, you guessed it – California – and how Green isn’t a fan and thinks people should stop trying to glorify it. Um, even that song’s been written already. ‘Death Song,’ closes the album and, well, it’s kind of straightforward.
There are a handful of solid, toe-tapping, hum-able tracks that sprinkle this album. Individually, perhaps, some of the latter half of the album could be taken over the course of a set or playlist. In the context of a chapter, in City and Colour’s book though…even when painting with a larger palate, it’s best to leave the blacks and grey’s in the box.