Sound — 9
A vocalist can often make or break a band, particularly considering that he or she is the person delivering the most personal aspects of a song -- the words. And when a singer is able to emote in ways that immediately connect with the audience, well, then you are likely to have fans hanging on every line you sing. Such is the case with Dashboard Confessional's lead singer/guitarist/pianist Chris Carrabba. A cult-like following has formed since the vocalist formed Dashboard as a side project in 1999, and watching Carrabba interact with his attentive, lip-syncing audience is still quite an image to behold. On the latest Dashboard Confessional release Dusk and Summer, the band (now with a full line-up of Carrabba, bassist Scott Schoenbeck, guitarist John Lefler, and drummer Mike Marsh) takes a step toward a bigger sound, which may alienate some of the fans who are fond of the simpler, straightforward approach, a la the Unplugged performance in 2002. But the new sound is actually well executed, with rich harmonies and a more layered arrangement. Carrabba's signature passionate vocals are still one of the highlights on the latest record, and that raw emotion is enough to carry much it all the way through. With that being said, one of the best songs on the CD actually features quieter, almost whisper-like vocals. In Stolen, Carrabba spends much of the chorus in a hushed vocal that is a huge contrast to what you might expect during a Dashboard chorus. This change is unexpected and is refreshing among the other songs that do emphasize powerhouse choruses. One song that just feels too much of a stretch is the duet So Long, So Long, sung with Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows. At its start, which features a basic piano intro, it has the same intimate quality that Dashboard has successfully captured in some of their classics. But with the introduction of Duritz vocals and the heavily produced sound, it becomes too forced -- as if it's trying to be an opus. Had Carrabba opted to record the track with just his voice and a piano, it likely would have probably made a much bigger impression.
Lyrics — 9
The relationship-oriented themes usually associated with the emo bands are still present in Dashboard Confessional's Dusk and Summer. For those who are already fans of the band, that will still be anticipated and welcomed. Some of the tracks do tend to blend together because of similar lines, and for non-Dashboard followers it may be a bit heavy on the sentimentality. The majority of the lyrics do deal with love in some way, shape, or manner, but Carrabba does have a talent of making such a familiar topic a little more intriguing. In The Secret's In The Telling, Carrabba takes a story of imperfect love and shapes lyrics that go beyond the usual I need you, baby of pop songs. Carrabba sings, And this broken fate has claimed me; And my memories for its own; Your name is pounding through my veins; Can't you hear how it is sung? The love songs keep with the confessional theme, and fans will likely find the new CD's lyrics heartfelt and sticking with the best of what Dashboard has to offer. The lyrics in Slow Decay leave a big impression, especially in today's world, by telling the story of a young man who has returned from a tour of duty. Carrabba's take should be appreciated for the mere effort, even if the words don't necessarily stand out as works of literary genius. The words are simple and honest, and it's a song that plenty of people can relate to with the war in Iraq. That reason alone is worthy of praise.
Overall Impression — 9
For the Carrabba fans already in place, Dusk And Summer will likely only add fuel to their fiery love for the artist. The candid lyrics are still very much present, although there is definitely a transition in Dashboard's sound. Replacing the prevalent acoustic guitar of earlier works are piano/keyboard lines and layered guitars. A risky move, but it works for the most part. While a few of the songs start off slowly and don't pull you in immediately, Carrabba's intense choruses do have the ability to give you chills. He sings about everything from love found to love lost to coming home from war, and in each case his vocals sound better than ever. He goes from a soft murmur to a desperate cry, and pulls each one off with ease. At times, the production overtakes the songs at times, but Carrabba's impassioned delivery makes any flaws forgivable.