Whether you've been on board with Glen Hansard since his earliest releases with The Frames, you cottoned on to him during the period in which his primary focus was The Swell Season with Markéta Irglová, the film 'Once' with its astonishing industry and musical-spawning success, or you've actually only heard his recent solo work - there can be no denying that he's a true artist. The kind of artist that comes along infrequently, perhaps as infrequently, in fact, as once in every generation.
With 'Didn't He Ramble', Hansard serves only to cement and further develop this status. As the emotive 'Grace Beneath the Pines' rolls into view with a droned accordion, Hansard's distinctive, world-weary vocal tones welcome us back into his world. He begins with a searing, spiritual look to the future, to a time when he'll "get through this", having found "Grace beneath the judge's gavel / Grace among my brothers on the firing line / Grace upon this road less travelled / Grace beneath the pines, the pines."
It's a resonant, almost desperate keening. In the song's short span, we travel right through the wringer with Hansard, through what feels like danger, into a place of hope. It is one of the strongest and most important songs of 2015 so far.
It's perhaps understandable, then, that what follows is 'Wedding Ring', a lighter twelve bar blues-based country ditty. 'Winning Streak' continues in the bar-room country vein, as our hero's soulful side is brought into plain view. 'Her Mercy' is another soulful, Southern groove, with a beautifully understated Hammond organ part. When the song takes off with full orchestration, a gospel choir and a lush yet punchy augmentation of brass, we're touching heaven once again.
The picture is of an artist who has pressed the button marked 'expansive', reached for the stars and crested them. There's a confidence, a willingness simply to be himself in these songs and performances which feels new to his canon. Witness the fiddle solo which ends 'McCormack's Wall'. Not many singer-songwriters make such brave choices, and then follow that song with the gritty stomp of 'Lowly Deserter' but Hansard does, and he succeeds.
Finally, rather than being characterised by the cares of the world, it is the stupendous scope of the songwriting talent at his disposal for which Glen Hansard will be most widely known. And not before time. After all, artists that come along once in a generation are often only recognised as truly singular talents after their lights have gone out. Let this not be the case with Glen Hansard. He might ramble sometimes, but his ramblings are like the songs of angels.
Words: Haydon Spenceley
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