Not only is The Love Still Held Me Near, the fourth album by Canadian musician City and Colour a.k.a. Dallas Green, a lyrical wonder but it is also a cohesive and inspiring body of work. This is the album I would go to when I lose my way and need someone to hold my hand. If it feels like the ground is cracking beneath my feet, this album would tell me how to keep going. I began listening to it unaware of what it was going to do– and suffice it to say that this album was a reality check, a compassionate guide, and a balm to worries I did not know I had. In this newest addition to his repertoire, Green takes on the formidable challenge of facing hardship and anguish head-on, and he wrings it out for light.
The album opens with “Meant to Be,” a track that begins softly, but grows steadily in power as it progresses. The lyrics, too, represent a process of growing courage, as the singer realizes that his beliefs are at odds with those of the world, saying, “I don’t believe/This is how it’s meant to be.” His musings on faith are interspersed with mentions of a person he longingly remembers. It is after losing them that his faith transforms, and he is willing to challenge the norm. The song confronts pain without drowning in it, still remaining hopeful and whispering of new beginnings.
Over the course of the album, Green’s perseverance takes on a presence of its own. It is not an optimism born from naïveté but a tenacity forged through struggle. In “Underground,” he asks fervently for a way to make things work, so that he can stop running before the run drags him underground. In “Without Warning,” he says with certainty that “the good times, they never last,” but does not let that dampen his vigor to persevere. But what makes him persist? Where does he draw his strength from?
We begin finding an answer to this in the titular, and fourth track of the album. The song opens on a shore, with Green affectionately coaxing his loved one awake, telling them that everything is falling apart. The world is on the brink of collapse, and Green is becoming increasingly untethered as he asks, “What would you say, if I was gone?” He then asks them to hold onto him and keep him close with their love. That’s what he needs, and with that, he will be found. The lyrical mood is further fleshed out through the sonic landscape which is evocative of water swishing up your feet in the verses, and waves surging and crashing against the shore in the chorus. Deeply endeared and tender even as he asks his person to save him, the song both exalts and embodies love.
Love is often entwined with pain in these songs. The relationship between the two develops delicately throughout this body of work, but we see them interweave starkly in the middle of the album. The fifth track, “A Little Mercy,” delves into the relentlessness of suffering, wondering if the extent and depth of pain are really worth enduring. This is followed by “Things We Choose to Care About,” where he reminds us of our agency, showing that we get to decide what is worth the struggle by choosing what we care about. This raises the question– what should we care about? The seventh song, “After Disaster,” responds: “Now, I know this might be the hurt talkin’/But I can’t imagine a world without us.” Love returns as the thing that is worth caring about, as the gift that is dearer than its price.
“Love,” in this album, is not referred to in an abstract or generic sense. Green takes care to layer and develop what it means, portraying it as a unique and identifiable force. He speaks of love as everlasting on “After Disaster”: “But darlin’, love ain’t temporary.” On “Without Warning”, he shows that love is brought into perpetuity through mutual effort: “Sometimes in life you gotta work a little harder/Before you let the love walk out the door.” In “Hard, Hard Time” love is likened to heaven: “But I have a hard, hard time believin’/Anything on the other side/Could be better than the love that you’re leavin’.” Love reaches the pinnacle of its glory in the penultimate song, “Bow Down to Love,” where it becomes transcendental and venerable. As he sings, “Lеt’s come down easy/And bow down to love,” love becomes the faith the album started in search of.
Green has given us the answers. He has shown us that heaven is found in this side of death and agony is endurable because of love. If he ended the album right here, there would be nothing lacking by way of closure. But he doesn’t. We still have one song left before he takes our leave– the twelfth track, “Begin Again.”
This song begins unlike any other, with a snippet of casual conversation. This immediately pulls the listener out of the realm of music and into the ordinary world. It is as if he is preparing us for the album to end. When the verse begins, you can tell that this song carries a quality different from the rest of the album– a lightness and ease, as if pain is of no concern.
That is not to say that there is no suffering. Green is quick to remind us of it with the very first line of “Begin Again”: “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt peace in my mind.” What is different is that pain is no longer a concern. This song is the path after acceptance.
After the cold and unyielding night, “Begin Again” leads you into the morning. This is a dawn alight with the hope that arrives after you come to terms with the inevitability of pain. Suffering is no longer the thing that drags you down. It becomes a normal part of your life, like any other. Love, too, is no longer something you desperately hold onto. It is a matter of fact. It is the thing you do with certainty: “’Cause I loved you once, I will love you again.” In this track, Green tells us how to carry on after the storm passes, and how to rebuild over and over again.
It’s a testament to City and Colour’s artistic prowess that the album felt complete before this song, and yet this song outdoes its predecessor with a whole new level of meaning. Green takes care of you as he lets you go. After carefully painting a portrait of anguish and love, he adds the final brushstrokes with a feather lightness, transforming it into a roadmap to everyday happiness.