By Mark Smotroff
Glen Hansard's first -- technically -- solo album is a bittersweet affair, coming off the break up of his acclaimed side project "The Swell Season" and the ensuing relationship with band mate Marketa Irglova. Together, the duo ascended and won an Oscar for Best Song in 2008 for "Falling Slowly," a centerpiece in their amazing film "Once."
Rhythm and Repose finds Hansard catching his breath in a song cycle that seems to put his transitional period in perspective with songs of hopefulness for his departed lover ("You Will Become," "Bird of Sorrow," "Maybe Not Tonight") as well as for himself ("Philanderer," "Love Don't Leave Me Waiting") But its not all doom and gloom, with Hansard not closing doors on his past relationships ("High Hope," as well as fear of becoming a slave to his own success ("The Storm, It's Coming"). It goes on. But in a good way that grows on you.
Sonically, this album is a bit more muted than his work with his fantastic full band "The Frames," as well as the intimate sparkle of his Swell Season recordings. The production is different -- possibly a bit more American-flavored, in an early 70s Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter sort of way. Yet it's still classic Hansard, with songs that start quiet and build to a howl with soaring string sections, blistering impassioned vocals and the like.
With his voice that recalls early Cat Stevens and Astral Weeks-era Van Morrison, Hansard's comforting warmth ultimately comes across nicely on this new CD.
His guitar is recorded in a very up front manner, feeling a bit like you are sitting on a couch in a living room house concert. His voice is very clear and upfront with out much reverb or any other vocal effects -- this is a guy who needs very little gloss to get a song across, a skill developed from years of busking. As CDs go this is a good one. I suspect the LP version that is available will have a bit more presence on the drums and acoustic guitars.
If you are considering this as your first immersion in Hansard's music, you would be well advised to rent or buy a copy of "Once" first on video to get an idea of what he is about and the sense of joy he enjoys making music. Then go buy all his records with The Frames, all of which are pretty fantastic, extending that joy to an extremely talented group of musicians. Then listen to Rhythm & Repose if you like - it's a good one but filled with a lot of upfront heartbreak and sadness amidst the passionate melodies.
We look forward to Hansard's next album as he makes it through this obvious period of transition.