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Tragedy has a way of bringing out the best in songwriters. That’s certainly the case for Dallas Green on The Love Still Held Me Near, his seventh studio album under the moniker City and Colour.
The 12-track set, arguably the most sonically aggressive and stylistically expansive outing in the City and Colour canon, comes from what Green has acknowledged as the most difficult time in his life. Within the span of a year, he lost two crucial figures – his cousin Nicholas Osczcypko, with whom he played in his first band, and longtime friend, City and Colour producer and engineer Karl Bareham, whose drowning death in Australia while on tour was the direct impetus for The Love Still Held Me Near’s first single, “Meant to Be”. At the time Green was also separated from his wife of (then) 11 years and felt their marriage was “seemingly over.”
Green feels those inspirations were vehicles to push The Love Still Held Me Near in its own direction of exploration and discovery.
“It’s not specifically about those events,” he says of the album, which was co-produced with longtime band member and multi-instrumentalist Matt Kelly. “It’s just an overarching theme of loss and the idea of trying to get through it.” Though he adds with a small chuckle that “it was like I was having this beautiful, perfect mid-life crisis,” the deeper purpose of the album is “asking good questions about life and then framing it in a way that anyone can find themselves in it. I know the experience I’m writing about on this album is not singular at all; it’s everything we have to deal with as human beings, trying to live and get through it.”
The Love Still Held Me Near certainly takes that trip from the emotional depths through the other side and finding a way to, as the closing track says, “Begin Again”. Throughout the album, Green questions the very core of his beliefs, spiritual and otherwise, and in the title track he wonders whether true healing is even possible. He ultimately concludes that it is. Even when he acknowledges that “hope is hanging by a thread” Green sings, “I know the beauty lies in dawn’s early light” and that “it ain’t enough just to be alive/we gotta lean into the love a little before we die.”
This is conveyed amidst a soundscape that dresses up the angst, tribulation and catharsis in sophisticated instrumental textures, ranging from waves of ambience to explosions of guitar-driven noise, with a wide array of touchstones in between.
“It was all about the love of things,” Green explains. “I had gone through the most negative, terrible aspect of living, and it was the idea that the positive and the love could still keep me, us, and my friends together. I like to write. It’s what I do when I just need to get something off my chest. It makes me feel better.”
Hailing from St. Catharines, Ontario, Green started City and Colour in 2005 as a (then) quiet counter to the band he co-founded, hardcore luminaries Alexisonfire, releasing songs via the Internet. They proved so popular with fans that he released City and Colour’s first album, Sometimes, later that year which won the JUNO Award for Alternative Album of the Year. He has since released five more albums under the moniker, accompanied by a shifting lineup of musicians, and collected 4 JUNO awards, including two Songwriter of the Year awards, plus 1 Triple Platinum, 2 Double Platinum, 6 Platinum, and 1 Gold certification in Canada, and 1 Gold certification in Australia. In 2022, Green was honoured with the SOCAN National Achievement Award in recognition of his philanthropic contributions to music education in Canada.
Beyond the legacy of City and Colour, Green teamed up with global icon Alecia Moore (a.k.a. P!nk) to form the folk duo You+Me. The duo’s acclaimed Platinum-certified first record, rose ave., debuted at #4 on the U.S. Top 200 Chart, #1 in Canada, #2 in Australia.
Despite that productivity and work ethic, Green went through a dark and also fallow period before The Love Still Held Me Near got on track.
Already laid low by the deaths and marital impasse (he and his wife reconciled in the wake of Bareham’s passing), Green concluded a tour on February 29, 2020 and then was hit hard, like so many of his creative colleagues, by the global pandemic that brought the music industry to an abrupt and frightening halt. “I wasn’t really thinking about making music at all,” he recalls. “It was such a strange time for all of us, trying to wrap our heads around what was going on. I spent that spring and summer of 2020 just really trying to dig in and figure out what was going on in my life and who I was and why I had spent my whole life doing this thing that might be gone.” Green was also turning 40 on September 29 of that year, which led to “a crisis of character and contemplation.”
Some consolation came via visits from Kelly at Green’s home in Northern Ontario. The two had “a lot of conversations, basically grieving with one another” over Bareham’s death and other issues. “It began the process of trying to figure out what had just happened in 2019,” Green says, “I really started to find the spark again, and then started writing.”
The timing coincided with Green regrouping with Alexisonfire during the early stages of the pandemic shutdown to make their first full-length studio album in 13 years, Otherness. Green found himself going from writing nothing to working on material for two contrasting but fulfilling projects.
“I’d always joked that if I made music as much as I thought about making music I would have twice as much as I already have,” Green says. “September 2020 to May 2021 was the most creatively explosive period I’ve ever had in my life. In seven months, I wrote and recorded two records, comprising of 22 songs. Quite a ‘comeback’.” During that time, he also recorded and released a two song EP, Low Songs, featuring the tracks “Murderer” and “Sunflower” from one of his longtime favourite bands, Low.
Though intensely personal, recording The Love Still Held Me Near was a collective and collaborative process. Recorded at Jukasa Studios in Caledonia, Ontario, Green and Kelly brought together a band of Canadian session stalwarts that included John Sponarski on guitar, Erik Nielsen on bass and Leon Power on drums. “The dudes who played on this record are a unit and have this hidden language like I have with Alexisonfire,” Green notes. “And they’ve known me a long time. They all understood the pain and what these songs are about. They understood me. They understood the way I work, the way I use music to get myself through whatever was going on in my life at the time. And they knew Karl, too, so we were all sort of supporting each other through it.”
Mixed by longtime collaborator, and three-time Grammy-winner Jacquire King (Kings of Leon, Norah Jones, Tom Waits, Modest Mouse, Shania Twain and others), the album features Green’s voice louder than ever before, supported by arrangements that are at once delicate and nuanced but also enormously powerful. “Meant to Be”, for instance, blends acoustic and electric instruments in a sweeping build, while you can hear fingers on strings and necks of guitars during “Fucked it Up”. On songs such as “Bow Down to Love”, “A Little Mercy”, “The Water is Coming”, and the title track, you could swear that Neil Young and Crazy Horse somehow snuck into the City and Colour sessions.
With The Love Still Held Me Near, wrapped and ready to come out, Green is, not surprisingly, ready to get this incarnation of City and Colour out on the road to play the songs.
Green affirms, “Something I’ve figured out after two decades of doing this is I’m invigorated working with new people and coming up with our own versions of the old songs. We had such a great time in the studio making this record, so even though it will be tough to live through the pain (of the songs) again, I can’t wait to finally be playing with everyone.”
That’s the testament of a man who’s faced down challenging times the only way he knows how – with guitar in hand, lyrics on the page and musical comrades at his side. Green’s conviction has been renewed, and rewarded, on The Love Still Held Me Near, and in doing so he’s helped to bolster ours as well.
On the honey shores of Cape Cod in a beach shack, Courtney Marie Andrews found self-love and her voice. Every morning, she’d walk 6-8 miles around the back trails of an island and meditate on her life, perusing old memories and patterns like browsing a used bookshop. That summer of introspection led her to a joyous sense of beginnings and ends. When she let love for herself in, she therein let the outside love in, too—the summer feeling, the swaying cypress, the full moon, and the possibility of healthy love. This phase came only right after one of her darkest, though, where being alone with oneself was the most terrifying thing you could do. After more than a decade on the road, the Phoenix-born songwriter, poet, and painter finally had the space to process all the highs and lows of a life of constants. She was finally ready to make a record of triumph, while not completely forgetting the years that made her.
That record is Loose Future.
After committing to penning a song a day, Courtney found the sounds of summer flowing through her writing—the romance, and possibility, and the free sounds. Collecting an album’s worth of material, she tied up some loose ends in Bisbee, Arizona, her “soul place” and beckoned Sam Evian to come and produce a record. Her guideposts were lots of harmonies and alternative percussion. The rest was pure exploration. At Flying Cloud Recordings in New York, she dipped in the creek every morning before proceeding. She wanted to embody the feeling of letting love in. Taking the dip is what letting love in feels like. Sometimes you plunge, and sometimes you walk slowly in.
This summer feeling materializes on the first single “Satellite” where her shimmering vocals orbit delicate acoustic guitar, a soft beat, and buzzing intergalactic synths. As if bottling rays of July sun, it glows with the affirmation, “I like to see you shine—my favorite piece of the sky.”
“I’ve written a lot of love songs, but there’s always a tinge of heartbreak,” she explains. “I wanted to write a love song with no caveats, which I’ve never allowed myself to do. A satellite is so mysterious to the average person. It’s the idea somebody is floating around your mind. You’re not quite sure why, but you like it.”
Then, there’s “I’ll Be Thinkin On You.” A bombastic beat echoes as an organ underscores her lovestruck delivery as she rethinks the whole concept of “missing” the one you love. “I fell in love with someone,” she goes on. “Instead of saying, ‘I’ll be missing you,’ we’d say, ‘I’ll be thinking on you’. When you’re ‘thinking on’ somebody, it means this person is on your mind and not absent.”
The opener and title track “Loose Future” embodies the core of the album’s message. Her voice rings out through a guitar amp pedal as off-kilter bass lines thump with lush guitar, mirroring the ebb and flow of her constant self-work to reach this point creatively, personally, and spiritually.
“The future is loose,” she notes. “I’m not in denial of the darkness, but I’m trying to allow self-love and acceptance to grow in my life. I’m not covering up the dark either, because we have to fight it constantly. We can welcome goodness and love into our lives to shine on these pockets of darkness.”
“Older Now” blossoms like a sunflower in summer, basking in the long days and enjoying a reprieve from a winter that had long outstayed its welcome.
“I wrote it right after I’d gone on my first date after being single for a long time,” she reveals. “I’m older now and wanted to become a better version of myself. I’m also realizing there are parts of myself that will never change. There are inherent personality traits that feel unchangeable and are imprinted in my DNA. I’m accepting I’m not this textbook version of a person. ‘Older Now’ is a huge representation of the change. I’m ready to not live out familiar patterns of being heartbroken for the sake of being heartbroken.”
Strings and soft guitar stitch together a moody sonic patchwork for “On The Line” as she asks, “Why do I give you the satisfaction of knowing I still care?” Reaching the physical and spiritual apex of summer romance, stark piano and a smoky beat brush up against her dynamic delivery on the rapturous finale “Me and Jerry,” which breaks down simply as “a song about good sex that transcends the physical realm.” Emblematic of her uncanny ability to draw the otherworldly from simplicity, the ethereal “Let Her Go” dreams of “a person who is so free, autonomous, and wonderfully themselves that everybody falls in love with this person.”
Loose Future ultimately represents a high watermark of her unbelievable journey thus far. Courtney was raised in Maricopa County by a single mother and a ragtag collection of Southwest eccentrics with a penchant for characters: bikers, Buddhists and cowboys. It was an unorthodox childhood, as a latchkey kid at the age of 7 and her mom working nights at Walmart and days at a call center in Phoenix she was often left to her own devices. Armed with a guitar her uncle had bought her for 30 pesos on a trip to Mexico, she spent this time developing her brilliant musical mind.
Her early pursuits led to her playing in punk bands in high school before becoming a touring member of Jimmy Eat World at just 18 years old, and from there Courtney went on to release a series of acclaimed albums. She garnered her first GRAMMY® Award nomination in the category of “Best Americana Album” for 2020’s Old Flowers. Meanwhile, the record closed out 2020 on year-end lists from Good Morning America, Magnet, and Uncut. The New York Times raved, “Courtney Marie Andrews’s luminous new album, ‘Old Flowers,’ anatomizes the aftermath of breaking up: loneliness, bittersweet memories, recriminations, regrets, temptations, lessons of experience.” Highlighting “Burlap String,” Rolling Stone claimed, “Driven by acoustic guitar, the song brings to mind classic Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, but Andrews’ bell-clear voice and fearless message of introspection are unmistakably her own.” Of the album, Stereogum attested, “up front in all of it is Andrews’ voice, wringing beauty out of pain and self- realization.” Along the way, she also unveiled her debut poetry collection, Old Monarch.
“When you listen to me, I hope you feel good,” she leaves off. “I spent so much of my career relating to the brokenhearted. There will always be that side of me. With this record, I hope you feel love on multiple levels. It doesn’t have to be romantic; it could just be self-love or hope. I’ve come into the full spectrum of my own creativity and selfhood. I want to keep continuing exploring that forever against the backdrop of summer.”