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Glen Hansard - Between Two Shores (Album Review)

Friday, 26 January 2018 Written by Simon Ramsay

It was never going to be easy for Glen Hansard to top 2015’s ‘Didn’t He Ramble’. The Irish troubadour’s second solo effort, following his time with angst-ridden rockers the Frames and haunting balladeers the Swell Season, saw the singer-songwriter at the peak of his creative powers. Although there’s been a drop in quality, and his trademark lyrical panache isn’t close to its evocative best, ‘Between Two Shores’ is still teeming with delightful moments.

The material here actually dates back to the period after Hansard’s first solo record, 2012’s patchy ‘Rhythm and Repose’. While touring, he and his well-drilled band recorded these songs in Chicago with the intention of releasing an album shortly after. That never transpired and those tunes were shelved until, early last year, their creator revisited them, wrote new words and laid down fresh vocals.

Produced by Hansard himself, ‘Between Two Shores’ boasts an easy-going vitality and inviting warmth. Recalling everyone from Bruce Springsteen and the Doors to Miles Davies and Van Morrison, it serves up a slice of vintage Americana that, with its big band sound and wonderful arrangements, feels like a love letter to his idols.

Roll On Slow cruises down Thunder Road while sweltering horns circle around Hansard’s economic, bluesy phrases and a frazzled guitar break hits the metaphorical accelerator. Wheels On Fire’s distress-signal organs and seething defiance underscore an anthemic rallying cry and Wreckless Heart, aided by a beautifully melancholic trumpet solo, paints bittersweet romantic pictures.

Elsewhere, Your Heart’s Not In It (featuring lovely backing vocals from Hansard’s Once co-star Marketa Irglova) builds to a soaring gospel-tinted climax and, with its haunting cinematic ambience, One Of Us Must Lose delivers a brutally honest acknowledgement that a relationship will invariably end badly for one of the lovers.

When he revisited these songs Hansard felt the lyrical content was too vague and needed reworking. As such, a strong thematic thread courses through an album that finds him in a surprisingly philosophical mood. Although mostly in the midst of romantic crisis (betwixt the titular shores), these tunes are less intense, tortured and despairing than his past work, instead focusing on accepting and overcoming doubts and fears with a quietly determined resilience and inner fortitude.

Yet the problem here, aside from another ill-fitting album cover that doesn’t do the music justice, is that the songsmith’s usual knack for spinning familiar conflicts into something uniquely poetic and personal, without sacrificing universal resonance, is often absent. The conversational intimacy of past work remains, but the obvious sentiments spun on Why Woman and Lucky Man are too general and merely skim the surface. If they weren’t gorgeously orchestrated and delivered with his unwavering earnestness, both may have resembled something by one of those bland singer-songwriters who jumped on Damien Rice’s bandwagon a little over a decade ago.  

Contrast comes in the shape of the potentially clichéd Time Will Be The Healer, a brilliant closing song where he gives painfully honest advice to a friend. It’s Hansard at his very best, transcending a well-worn adage because the situation’s distinct truth shines through courtesy of a vivid, unhurried narrative. Deprived of similar depth, a number of songs on this record have a pleasant middle of the road appeal that, although good enough for some, feels too generic for an artist of Hansard’s ability.

Glen Hansard Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri February 09 2018 - LONDON Royal Festival Hall

Click here to compare & buy Glen Hansard Tickets at Stereoboard.com.





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