Halfway through his fifth Dashboard Confessional studio album, Chris Carrabba finds himself wailing through a song called "Little Bombs," a finger-pointing acoustic send-off that should sound incredibly familiar to anyone who still owns a copy of, say, 2000's The Swiss Army Romance. After two recent hits that gave Carrabba an added presence on VH1, The Shade Of Poison Trees marks an unexpected retreat to the overtly earnest, mostly unplugged material that initially made him famous. Because of this, there's surely a message-board debate raging at this very second over the album's supposed intent.

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But seriously, kids, who cares? Sure, Carrabba has already written dozens of strummy sing-alongs just like "These Bones" and "Thick As Thieves," but the obvious charm to Trees is that he thoroughly owns the territory now. In a way, he's abandoned the approach long enough to realize its every nuance, and such prowess turns a plaintive ballad like "The Widow's Peak" into something more timeless than a mere emo lament. It's a lesson that more songwriters would be wise to learn: Return to a sound with some perspective and you may actually get better with age.