album of the week
Rhythm and Repose
For much of his career, Glen Hansard was dogged with the same question: why hadn't his music achieved the international recognition his fans craved?
Big in Ireland, and with modest inroads made into markets as diverse as Australia and central Europe, The Frames and Hansard looked destined to join the scrapheap of those acts who should have made it on distant shores, but didn't.
Now, thanks to a low-budget film, an Oscar win and -- this week -- a hatful of Tony awards, the Dubliner has got more acclaim than he could ever have imagined.
But has all the Once-driven success over the past few years come at a cost to his art?
After all, some of his more compelling Frames songs were written when Hansard's back was up against the wall and he was kicking against just about everything.
Fears that his flintiness might have abated are unfounded, as this highly assured solo debut proves.
The songs do still betray many of the old Hansard preoccupations -- niggling doubts, relationship woes, crises of confidence.
But what's changed here is the sure-footedness of the songwriting.
Rather than the histrionic tendencies of old, these songs are understated, elegant and redolent of the material he wrote with former lover and Once co-star Marketa Irglova under the Swell Season moniker.
He's become a dab hand at writing slow- burning songs that eat their way into your heart given time.
Maybe Not Tonight is a gorgeously languid number built on delicately picked acoustic guitar, slide-guitar and the softest percussion imaginable and finds Hansard ruminating on an old love affair.
Talking with the Wolves also benefits from a gossamer-like backdrop, albeit one built around quickening beats.
Hansard's voice barely raises above a whisper as he offers succinct advice to a cherished one: "Don't let the bastards take the stage, they don't love you."
Elsewhere, the bittersweet Philander sees Hansard opt for a touch of the theatrical: it's all strings and silences, but done in the sort of disarmingly downbeat manner that Portishead managed in the mid 1990s.
The album's closer Song of Good Hope is a sparse, acoustic lullaby and a thing of such beauty that even the Hansard haters -- and there are many -- might reappraise.
KEY TRACKS Maybe Not Tonight; Talking with the Wolves
Day & Night