Those thinking that Glen Hansard’s name is familiar would be entirely correct. This 40 year-old singer and musician was a founding member of Ireland’s The Frames, was one half of the acclaimed duo The Swell Season and claimed himself an Academy Award (no less) for Falling Slowly – his duet with Czech songstress Marketa Irglova which featured on the Soundtrack to the movie Once. His twenty year career has lacked little other than a solo release. In Rhythm and Response he achieves just that and it certainly was well worth the wait.
It is refreshing to hear a quality album from the “local boy done good”. This is an 11-song work of art which serves as a culmination of his years of struggle & toil. The expression of what he has become, placed gently in front of us with passion and honesty. Musically and lyrically Hansard tells a tale of love, sorrow, heartache and joy. The tone is both unsettling and soothing in strange and wonderful balance…fragile and confident in equal measure. He is very much in his comfort zone with this work.
As a song writer Hansard is a hard-hitter. As a performer he draws the listener close, envelops them and leaves them desperate for closure. He has amassed a long list of accomplished musicians to contribute to this record giving a varied blend of song styles from full-band rockers to mournful, introverted brooders. The latter are the songs that work best and really drive his point home. There is an overwhelming sense of the beauty of the minor keys.
Bird of Sorrow is a soft, painful ballad which showcases the artist’s lyrical talent and vocal strength. It is a song of comfort that begs for hope – “Love is gonna find us, you’d better be ready then”. It is a simple song that builds to a dramatic string-backed crescendo with Hansard’s desperate, almost shouted promise that he is hanging on in there. The lyrical sentiment is raw and emotional without wallowing. Glen is gifted at delivering this style of music and has been for some time. It will appeal greatly to his existing devotees as well as showing potential converts just exactly what he can do.
There is a lot more to this album, however, than simply songs of sorrow. The summery groove of Maybe Not Tonight is reminiscent of some laid-back cut from “that” Abbey Road LP. “Echoes of another time” he sings – and he’s quite right. The subject matter still revolves around the trials of love, the memories of good times and bad times but also gives a mellow sense of acceptance and understanding.
Ireland has been blessed with more than its fair share of soul singers and Glen Hansard certainly throws his hat in that particular ring – more so than ever on the vigorous and charming High Hope. A soft intro gives way to a rousing, gospel-styled climax. The towel could be draped round his shoulders as he drops to his knees, teary-eyed and cries, “When your heart is strong, well we can go on and on”. This is a captivating song which is as uplifting as it is heart-warming. It is a moment of real power in an already powerful album.
The momentum of Rhythm and Repose ebbs and flows in a way that holds the attention and while the final track, Song of Good Hope signs off in a gentle and pleasing manner which is worthy of mention, it is the album’s opener, You Will Become that really remains as the memorable stand-out track of the piece as a whole. Here, Hansard creeps into the most beautiful melancholy state from the outset. He is joined by Swell Season compatriot and fellow Academy Award Winner, Irglova, who adds a class and richness to the sound as she gives her blessing to the project. “Your beauty is nothing compared to what you will become”, sings Hansard as he blends sadness with hope. Therein lies the recurring theme.
Rhythm and Repose is an album of quality and substance. It has a general feeling of serenity which bleeds through the heartfelt story telling. It could be said that it offers few surprises for those familiar with his weighty arsenal of work, but perhaps this serves as the album Glen Hansard envisaged when he first busked on the streets of Dublin some twenty years ago – stripped-back, thoughtful and honest. Newcomers to his work will undoubtedly be inspired to delve into that back-catalogue to discover where this talent was formed.
Review by: Craig Walker