Review Summary: Happiness is no dull knife.
Glen Hansard has had a long life. And from what I can tell through his work in successful folk duo The Swell Season and the solo albums released since then, that life hasn’t been so easy. Despite his good musical fortune, time and again there seems to be plenty weighing down the weathered heart of Hansard.
That’s where his new album, Between Two Shores
Between the strong blues-rock influences and some straightforward folk tracks here and there, something new and foreign is shining through the cracks: happiness. This newfound emotion manages to worm it’s way through and through into nearly every track present here. The Chicago-like horns blare with a giddy excitement in “Roll on Slow,” and “Wheels on Fire” sounds almost alien on a Hansard album due to its upbeat tone and poppy melodies. Even the jazzy instrumentation of “Wreckless Heart” and “Movin’ On” blends surprisingly well with his folk roots, heightening rather than diminishing the hope present in each tune.
Perhaps that’s where the difference lies. Hope has always been present in Hansard’s music, as far back as I’ve listened. But previously it’s sounded like an uncertainty, a timid question mark far too fleeting to explore further out of fear of it backfiring and causing even more pain. Here, it’s the motivation for half the tracks. The lyrics here revolve around lost love and souring relationships just as always, but now contain more than a slight glimmer of hope. “Setting Forth” perhaps is the clearest example of this, meshing his soulful crooning with a more string-based tune that reminds us of her earlier work in The Swell Season, while retaining the optimistic atmosphere of the rest of this record.
However, this direction doesn’t always lead Hansard to musical bliss. There are many times when the horns come off as a bit much or a bit too artificially bright, such as on “Lucky Man,” and in the end Hansard never quite sounds as convincing when he’s happy as he does anguished. And oftentimes when he does try to return to his simple folk tunes of yore, he can’t add much new to the table, creating some pleasant but tired sounding tracks like “Woman Why” and “Your Heart’s Not in It.”
But in the end, can we really fault a man for sounding too happy? There’s no doubt that he’s earned his contentedness. And even if the music isn’t quite as sharp or moving as when he was down in the dumps, he’s still delivering interesting tunes with a constantly shifting perspective, and I daresay Hansard deserves these clear skies that seem to have come his way.