Variously recorded in New York, Dublin, Chicago and France with Thomas Bartlett and ex-Frames member David Odlum on production duties, following on from the Drive All Night and Jason Molina covers EPs, Glen Hansard’s second solo album ‘Didn’t He Ramble‘ finds him in reflective mood, the songs veined with themes of grace under pressure and of support and comfort for the lost. Indeed, the introspective opening track, with its piano and warm brass, is itself titled Grace Beneath The Pines as he sings about there being “no more going half the way”, wailing “I’ll get through this” as the song draws to a close.
Borrowing the tune to the traditional shuffling country blues Corrina Corrina, Wedding Ring introduces doubt into the mix as he sings “there’s a wildcat in you, woman” and wonders whether the little band of gold “will be strong enough to keep the love from growing cold.”
If that recalls Dylan, so too does Winning Streak, a piano and mandolin led song of encouragement to a friend finding life tough, where, joined on backing vocals by Sam Beam and Sam Amidon, you’ll hear echoes of Forever Young in the lines “may the sign of the cross be some comfort when you’re lost, help you when you’re all broke down. May the spirit of good brethren turn you around and may the devil leave the light, pass you right by…. May your winning streak, may it never end.”
That sense of compassion and of hope in times of trouble also oozes into the pores of Her Mercy, an unequivocal album highlight with Hansard starting out in soft falsetto mode before the song swells to a soaring anthem on waves of soulful brass and gospel choir harmonies to the lines “And when you’re ready, for her mercy and you’re worthy, it will come. It will come, when you’re broken and your heart is finally open. When you’re down, down in trouble, when you’re lost among the rubble.” In many ways, it’s his Bridge Over Troubled Water.
At this point, the album turns to Hansard’s Irish roots for the folksy piano-led McCormack’s Wall, a resigned song of love turned sour played out to a piano backdrop that opens up into a traditional jig with John Sheehan on fiddle. Far brassier, both in instrumentation and bluesy sound, Lowly Deserter uses the image of a military deserter to serve as a metaphor for personal cowardice, again featuring Beam and Amidon, only this time with the latter also on violin.
With Bartlett on celeste, the musical mood changes again for the dusty, Springsteenesque blue collar ballad Paying My Way, essentially saying that you’ve got to graft if you want to pay your way in life and you have get your fingers dirty to bring about change. That sense of endurance and steadfastness is there too on the bluesy My Little Ruin with its nervy rippling synth, Hansard’s voice gathering in power as the lyrics (“I’m not gonna stand aside and watch them tear you up”), a companion piece to Winning Streak, take on a defiant, protective tone.
All stops are pulled out for the arrangement on Just To Be The One, a sultry late night vibe with Hansard whispering to a backdrop of horns, flute, keyboards, viola and brooding guitar.
But, if that’s thick and layered in its instrumentation, the album closer, the Odlum-produced Stay The Road, strips everything down to just Hansard’s voice and guitar, conjuring the same sparse of Once. The lyrics referencing, both literally and thematically, Neil Young’s Heart of Gold, it’s one last reminder to recognise how far you’ve come and what you’ve achieved, and to “keep your doorway wide” and never throw in the towel in the quest for love. A wandering star indeed.
Review by: Mike Davies
Didn’t He Ramble is Out Now.
Order it via Amazon.