As soon as the name Glen Hansard comes up most people think of that iconic sonic moment in the film Once or perhaps a general allegiance to the classic lines and timeless songwriting styles of artists such as Dylan, Van Morrison and Leonard Cohen. But Hansard has always found ways of upsetting expectations and this new track from the looming fourth solo album, This Wild Willing, is as strange and mercurial as anything found in the darker and less immediate corners of his regular musical vehicle, The Frames, back-catalogue.
With her previous album being well received amongst critics and buyers alike and the double single of Hurtin’ /Dreamer already hinting at the delicate folk goodness that her second full album was going to deliver, Arrow’s promotional work had largely already been done for it. Definitely a case of a product being able to sell itself. Ciara O’Neill trades in timeless, noirish and understated folk sounds and vocals with just enough of a Celtic echo to place her geographically but working in the shifting and slightly genre-less musical waters that eschews tradition and rules in favour of exploration and emotion.
Using striking and brooding cellos, and haunting violins to punctuate the core sound of rhythmic guitars and her outstanding vocals, it is an album which is less about solid structures and standard progressions and more about music which floats and moves about on the breeze. Storms Comin’ takes this idea into more minimalist country territory with its twanging guitar, dark vibes and lilting drive, Equal and Opposite is built on the same transience and emptiness as the music of fellow Irish artist Damien Rice and Everything is almost a pop ballad in its accessibility and commercial potential.
She follows in the traditions of hosts of names who have combined elusive and compelling music with the ability to penetrate the mainstream, The Civil Wars, Lisa Hannigan, Glen Hansard and the dear departed Eliot Smith and there is no reason not to think that Arrow will easily find a chink in the armour of the narrow minded record executives and media money men who profess to know exactly what the punters want. Arrow is exactly what the more discerning punters want, it is just that they may not yet know it is what they want. Believe me it is.
It is a sadly inevitable that artists get known for just one song and usually for all the wrong reasons, reasons more to do with cultural zeitgeist or lucky exposure. So if you are one of those people who only know the name Glen Hansard for the duet Falling Slowly from the film Once, then you have missed out on 27 years of him fronting the most excellent Frames and two exquisite solo albums to date. Shame on you.
His third solo outing, Between Two Shores, kicks off with a brace of songs which pretty much define the boundaries of the album. Roll On Slow is the sound of The E Street Band hanging around Old World beach front bars rather than the New Jersey shore and this is followed by The Van-tastic strains of Why Women. Someone once told me that most people in the seventies either wanted to be Bruce Springsteen or Van Morrison, Glen Hansard is the first person I have heard who manages to tip his hat to both at the same time and still sound like his own man.
But it isn’t all big music, even though he has employed many of his touring buddies, The Fellowship Band, to help fill out the sound, the clever use of restraint and space results in some wonderfully understated moments such as Movin’ On and the album’s beautiful swan song, Time Will Be The Healer.
Between Two Shores is a wonderful album, I doubt anyone who knows Hansard’s work thought it would be anything less, soulful, intimate, engaging and gorgeous…often all at the same time.