Glen Hansard. Irish national treasure. From Busker to Oscar and almost thirty years of great tunes via The Frames, The Swell Season and now solo. On stage he has a charismatic presence but one that differs from most as rock star ego gives way to a fella next door kind of ordinariness. He is creeping up on 50 and still a bachelor. Surely Ireland’s most eligible…
Why he is still a bachelor might be the thesis below the surface of the songs on his third solo record, Between Two Shores. These songs portray a man who is romantic, passionate and determined but who seems to be uncertain, maybe prone to commitment issues and not without complications!
It would be easy to see the album as Glen’s Blood On The Tracks, that exquisite heartbreaking record where Bob Dylan dealt with the fall out of his marriage to Sara Lownds. Between Two Shores might be more Hansard’s version of Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel Of Love. On that record from 1987 Bruce is caught in a dark tunnel somewhere in his short marriage to Julieanne Phillips, not knowing what decisions to make.
On Between Two Shores Hansard takes us through every emotion of a relationship on the rocks. At moments he wants to hang in and at other moments he knows it is over. Throughout he is aware of the cost of the heartache when decisions are made.
Very direct lyrically, where Between Two Shores really succeeds for me is in the musical sound. Roll On Slow sets the album off in the most delicious deep loose blues. The rest of the record might shift into different styles and paces but there is a strong subtle gorgeous groove throughout!
Wheels On Fire is even more glorious intoxication than Roll On Slow, Setting Forth is gentle but still rumbling under, One of Us Must Lose even more fragile on the surface but no less deep. The production is strong but subtle, much slicker than its Grammy nominated predecessor Didn’t He Ramble. There is something simple about the beauty of the song construction but it is all layered and anchored in brilliant instrumentation and arrangements.
Though the record is a melancholic investigation of the heart Hansard does get a wee political jibe in about America’s new President:
“I see you move your mouth
But I hear nothing of any weight come out”
He is distraught about the new dispensation but has hope for change:
“Your wheels on fire
Your one desire
Is to roll and rule over everyone
Come on let them do it
We see right through it
You can roll and rule
But we will overcome”
In the end Hansard leaves us with a near benediction of advice for our romantic or political woes. Time is indeed a healer:
“Keep your friends and neighbours close at hand
Stay busy with your work and don't give in
To the bottle or your self-defeat again
Time will be the healer once again”
Glen Hansard is so good. He is a natural songsmith. He has matured in how to present his work to the world. He has a band around him that breathes musical finesse. I did say national treasure!