Solo-projects come and go, but Glen Hansard keeps coming back. While taking a break from The Frames and The Swell Season, he has recorded his second full-length Didn’t He Ramble. Featuring collaborations with Sam Bean and Sam Amidon, his new album is sure to be the cream of this year’s Irish folk crop.
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Contrary to what you might believe if you’ve been paying any attention to him over the years (which is not a prerequisite for living your life), Glen Hansard was a musician first and an actor later. Dramatic folk crew The Frames existed prior to dramatic not-folk film The Commitments, but Hansard’s musical career has only recently found its resurgence, the worrisome singer coming back ‘round with a record in 2012 and then going on to cover a bunch of Jason Molina’s songs earlier this year. On his second solo record proper, the quite accurately titled ‘Didn’t He Ramble’, Hansard commits himself to an Americana that travels the distance between Bill Fay and Damien Rice.
Hansard understood Molina’s material well: he jittered through those folk songs, his voice wavering and his acoustic arrangements slithering with the same urgency of his folk idol. With his own songs, you can hear the same vulnerability creep in: on “Wedding Ring”, it’s heard in the guitar, which he scratches across hastily, as well as his vocal -- he crackles and whispers like a slide between frets. His vocal can wither away to nothing for these kind of devastated ballads, or it can be strengthened to the level of a Bryan Adams wannabe, as it does on the country anthem “Winning Streak”.
Hansard can burn barns. He’s at his best when he’s readying himself for a standoff, as on “Lowly Deserter”, a hellish country rock tune to rival Molina on ‘Magnolia Electric Co.’: it writhes with discomfort and fear, compressing an epic into less than a few minutes of percussive march, out of place trumpet motifs and panicked strings. Maybe I just like country rock best when it worries, but it’s the gravitas that brings out the best in this man. The die-trying romance of “My Little Ruin” is him all over, an artist whose music should, against his will, exist in a melodramatic film. Sorry, Hansard: it’s the big screen for you.
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