Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tuesday Listening - Glen Hansard

I would like nothing more than to sit down and have a pint with Glen Hansard.

There are plenty of topics to cover- how he started busking on the streets of Dublin, his time with The Frames, Once, The Swell Season, and now, his first solo album Rhythm and Repose, released last week.  I have had an affinity for his music for some time, as his music is the rare type that remains utterly pure, untouched from overzealous producers and weird machines that remove the soul from a song.  His songs overflow with soul.  Unapologetically.

Thank goodness for that.

Anyway, back to the pint.

I'm sure he's a nice fellow and all, and there'd be plenty to talk about over the foamy rings on our pint glasses, but primarily I'd be hoping that at any moment he'd pick up that old, worn guitar of his and just start singing.  Just him and his guitar, the essence of what his music is. (The pints don't hurt, either).

As a busker, he essentially got his start as a solo artist.   He's since spent most of his career playing with other people, so it is at this point that a solo album by Glen Hansard gives one the sense of 'Hmm. Yes.  This makes sense.'  He's mentioned in recent interviews how this solo album came about almost by accident via sessions at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC.  Most of his fans, however, would probably say this solo album is a long time coming.  Given his busker start, it only makes sense.

It also makes sense, then, that the album is full of music that stays in the vein of Glen's past works, but with a more evolved sound.  The first taste of this is on the very first track, "You Will Become", which has a serious tone juxtaposed with soft strumming that eventually turns wide and sweeping.  If this album is a meal, "You Will Become" is a tasty yet unsettled appetizer, and "Maybe Not Tonight" is the decadent, delicious, longed for main course.  On this second track, his voice is tempered.  There is a seductive sway in the tune, like watching ocean waves rise and fall, leaving the listener a bit weak in the knees.

Those looking for the more 'traditional' Glen sound, with his trademark highly emotive singing can look towards "High Hopes", where this singing style brings the song to an extreme climax before lightly settling back in.  With lyrics like "Why must a man lose everything/to find out what he wants", it is one of the standouts on the album.  Songs like "Bird of Sorrow" and "The Storm, It's Coming" bring forth the wistful and hopeful-yet-melancholic side of his sound.  Swell Season fans will get their fill on a track like "Love Don't Leave Me Waiting", which has a "Low Rising" feel to it.  There is also the remarkable, climactic "The Gift", complete with a female vocalist we've grown accustomed to hearing with Marketa and Glen.

There are widely varying tones, tempos, and emotions on this album, but it all comes back around again on one of the key tracks, "Song of Good Hope".  Written for a friend who was going through some rough times, it is a simple, beautiful song, with just Glen and his guitar and meaningful lyrics that at times can sound like an Irish blessing: "You'll be fine now/Just stay close to me/and may good hope, walk with you through everything".

Some tracks sound like a new direction for him, but at the same time they sound like exactly where he should be as a musician at this point in his journey.  Perhaps that's why it's taken till now to get a solo album out of him.  In some sense, he is going back to his beginnings.  No longer a full time busker on the streets, he's a musician whose sound has progressed but who has managed to weave in the roots of where it all began.  One can imagine each of the songs on his new album being stripped down and played simply with just him and his guitar.  This is the essence of his music.  At its core, it belongs to a busker's heart.

You can Rhythm and Repose on iTunes:

More Glen Hansard:

NPR Tiny Desk Concert

Glen Hansard at the Rolling Stone offices:

Glen Hansard on World Cafe's Sense of Place with David Dye

At SXSW with KUT

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