Music: Rhythm and Rest: Glen Hansard moves beyond Once

Glen Hansard’s new album, Rhythm and Repose

Glen Hansard is trying to separate himself from the massive success of Once. The former front man for the Frames (one person once said that “U2 gets all the fame but the Frames have all the soul”), Hansard found extraordinary success with the indie movie, Once, for which he and his partner, Marketa Irglova, garnered an Academy Award for Best Song.

But this was not his first foray into film. As a much younger man, Hansard was chosen by Alan Parker to play the guitarist in The Commitments–a former busker who ended up almost making it with Jimmy Rabbit’s Dublin Soul band. He was one of the more likeable lads in the band and as things worked out in the film his character ended up back on the Dublin streets busking.

Hansard as Outspan Foster in The Commitments

Fast forward 15 years and Hansard is again playing a busker in the Dublin streets, and this time he strikes gold. The on-screen (and purported off-screen) chemistry between him and Marketa Irglova found a wide audience around the world.  The music (much of it from the Frames’ repertoire) was memorable, the story was charming, and the ending was so far from a typical Hollywood ending that it was a refreshing success. And if people doubted Hansard and Irglova’s sincerity, their acceptance speech at the Oscars was one of the finest moments in what is usually an orgy of narcissism and self-aggrandizement.

When the music played to whisk Hansard off the stage, the emcee-Jon Stewart–stepped in and made the audience listen to what Irglova had to say.  Here is both of their “thank you speeches”–a tribute to independent artists and dreamers everywhere:

So Hansard and Irglova took advantage of the momentum and began a whirlwind concert tour bringing the music of Once to audiences live and then teamed up in a new band called The Swell Season, releasing a double album.

Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard

Yet Once was not going to let go.  In 2011, the film was turned into a Broadway musical and in 2012 it won the Tony Award for Best Musical.

By then, Hansard and Irglova’s partnership had severed and Hansard moved to New York to work on a solo gig.

And on June 19th, his new album Rhythm and Rest hit the stores.  If you liked the music from Once and you like the music of the Frames, you will very much like this.

On Rhythm and Rest, Hansard does what he does best.  He writes personal,  soulful songs, often begins them with a single, simple instrument and then builds to a painful wail or a embracing chorus.  The song “High Hope” is typical–Hansard’s voice accompanied by his acoustic guitar and piano begins the tune and then builds with a rousing choral section on the choruses. The choral accompaniment is very similar to the styling of some of Van Morrison’s productions. “The Song of Good Hope” (do you detect a theme here?) starts the same way–if even more stark at the beginning being fortified not by choral voices but by strings.  It is the last song of the album and like all of Hansard’s songs it is bittersweet.

The song “Philander” (and the video) straddles loneliness and the determination to persevere, while “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting,” reveals more resilience in human relations.  At times in “Philander,” Hansard’s voice–which I find expressive AND beautiful–veers towards the articulation of Tom Waits. It is amusing to find this Dublin street performer, unwittingly channeling the American blues, saloon singer.  While I very much like the song “Maybe Not Tonight” which begins with a simple guitar arpeggio, it reminds me an awful lot of the old Crazy Horse tune, “I Don’t Want to Think About It.”  It’s now all I hear when I listen.

My personal favorites are “The Storm is Coming” and “You will Become.” The first song on the album, “You Will Become” has a simple Leonard Cohen-like guitar, a haunting cello and a faint penny-whistle, before crescendo-ing with tinkling piano.  And the music perfectly complements the heart-breaking lyrics. “The Storm is Coming” features a single piano and Hansard’s voice in all its pain, its anticipation of the future, and its acceptance.

Hansard’s lyrics are very personal and his voice is perfectly suited for this. As he bemoans romantic fates, upcoming storms, lost chances, his voice soulfully captures the very essence of his words. Here is the video for “Philander”: