Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard may have gotten started in music busking on the streets of Dublin, but his career has had some very unusual twists and turns. Early on he was tapped to play the role of the guitarist in the movie about a band start up, “The Commitments” (1991), while he was also working with his band The Frames at the time. For my money, the highwater mark from the Frames is their great live album, Set List, recorded in Nov. of 2002, although the band has continued to pay together since. In 2007, Hansard appeared in the movie, “Once” (2007), as a street musician and appliance repair person, a part that felt like it was written with him in mind. Hansard and his musical/romantic co-lead, Marketa Irglova, co-wrote the movie’s theme song, “Falling Slowly,” which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Hansard wrote most of that movie’s soundtrack songs, then the duo recorded and toured around two more albums as The Swell Season. “Once” went on to have a second life as a musical on Broadway, and eventually a touring company, full to the brim with Irish music and energy.
Of course, among those successes and high-profile projects, Hansard continued with the Frames, and both provided music for and appeared in numerous film and TV projects, but in 2012 he finally got around to releasing a solo album. There have been 3 more, but for those paying attention, Hansard appears as a support musician for Bono and The Edge of U2 for the performances filmed for their Disney+ documentary featuring David Letterman, “A Sort of Homecoming.” Given the absence of a tour to support U2’s release of their electronica remix album, “Songs of Surrender,” the filmed concert and some group singing in a pub were the closest fans would get to a live performance of these more acoustic, stripped down and orchestrated versions, and from the look of it, Hansard played a solid role in supporting the shows stars musically, playing guitar and singing harmonies.
Curiously, 4 years after his quieter and more experimental album, This Wild Willing, Hansard’s come around with a heavier-edged folk-rock sound, prepared to “Bear Witness” to the challenges of life in the modern world, faced with the short time we share together in the sweep of time, rising to the desire to make a difference with one’s life. The album’s two opening tracks hit the hardest; “The Feast of St. John,” recalls the bonfires lit along the hillside to warn “monsters be gone,” which leads into a gritty rock jam led by Bad Seeds’ violinist Warren Ellis, followed by the grinding rhythmic chant of “Down On Our Knees,” which opens up to another extended electric jam channeling the resistance to the inevitable powers that be.
Then in “There Is No Mountain,” having wrestled life’s demons and concluded that there are no “quick fix or easy answer going to but all our troubles to right,” Hansard settles into a more recognizable folk ballad that offers the possibility that we can “leave a little light on our way.” That hopeful anthem, supported by a nice chorus of singers leads into the trio of tracks that make up the album’s yearning heart. The gentle ballad carried on strings, “Sure As the Rain,” takes comfort in the healing of a loving relationship, both in English and in French, as a necessary source of light. In “Between Us There Is Music,” Hansard’s lighter melodic side leads to the realization that life will always be what we make of it, but we have to make it. “Ghost” is a quiet piano ballad, with harmony vocals that recall The Swell Season, which is lovely, although the haunting sound of the theremin may be too on the nose.
Hansard concludes this 8 song journey, ready now to say what he’s come to believe, and he’s “Bearing Witness”: That “it’s not what you are given/but what you do with it/it’s not the road less traveled/but how you choose to live,” and it’s comforting to know we’re not in it alone: “if it weren’t for the kindness of others/I’d have gone down long ago,” So he sings in a gentle folk/pop closing number, that since it’s a “Short Life,” “don’t throw it away.” So Hansard comes in hot and heavy, and leaves inviting us to sing in harmony, perhaps that’s the most honest way to deal with what the world is sending our way. Here the singer songwriter attempts to reveal his struggle and hope, and it’s worth hanging in through the chaotic storms to get to the more comforting conclusion.
“There’s No Mountain” / “Bearing Witness” / “The Feast Of St. John”
ARTISTS WITH SIMILAR FIRE
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds / The Swell Season / U2
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