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CD Review: Dashboard Confessional 

Alter the Ending (Vagrant)

If emo needed a poster boy to get a toehold nearly a decade ago, it couldn't have done any better than Chris Carrabba. Tattooed, soft-spoken, sensitive and cute, Carrabba was tough enough to present himself as an acoustic-guitar balladeer and open for punk thrashers like New Found Glory and Snapcase, and good enough to not only survive the rain of nickels that pelted him on the first song but also win over audiences by the end of his set.

Since then, Dashboard has evolved from one-man emo torchbearer to full band and become a commercial juggernaut without compromising Carrabba's original creative vision. He still writes intensely personal songs that work in nakedly acoustic or full-throttle electric arrangements, a point well made on Dashboard's latest CD, Alter the Ending. And while it's cool to hear Carrabba's new songs in a solo acoustic setting and with the current Dashboard band (John Lefler, Scott Schoenbeck, Mike Marsh) available on separate discs, the beauty of Carrabba's songwriting is that either way Carrabba sounds equally vulnerable and affecting.

Already a viral web hit, "Belle of the Boulevard" has a swelling power wrapped around an after-school special message (Taylor Swift could take this to #1), but there are plenty of potential chart-toppers here: the coma-recovery anthem "Until Morning," the emo/pop ache of "Blame It on the Changes," the new-wave-flecked "The Motions," the angular guitar pulse of the title track. While Alter the Ending's stacked set could easily translate into Dashboard's biggest commercial success, it will start, as always, with the intensely loyal and committed fan base that Carrabba has cultivated. — Brian Baker

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