Glen Hansard “Between Two Shores” (Anti, 2018)

This is the third solo album from Glen Hansard, singer/songwriter, frontman for excellent Irish rockers The Frames and actor, forever famous as Outspan Foster, the guitar player in the film “The Commitments”. This is a man who gets around a bit. The Frames have been a big part of the Dublin music scene for many years, have put out seven well-received albums and have even toured as support act to Bob Dylan himself. He is also one half of The Swell Season, along with pianist Marketa Irglova.  In 2007 they wrote the music for and starred in the movie “Once”.  The song, Falling Slowly, from the film won the Academy Award for Best Original song. Glen Hansard has some serious musical credentials.

Glen released his first solo album, Rhythm and Repose, back in 2012 and followed it three years later with Didn’t He Ramble. Now, another three years on, we have Between Two Shores, an album that reflects Hansard’s love of the sea but also dwells on those moments of indecision when you’re trapped between your starting point and your destination. It’s an album of well-written songs and Hansard has a great voice that can, at times, be reminiscent of Van Morrison himself – and it does seem to be Van the Man that Hansard is trying to channel in many of these songs, particularly with some of the arrangements that reflect the “Celtic soul” approach that Morrison used to great effect in his earlier albums.

The problem with this is that Hansard’s songs, while very good, don’t really lend themselves to this blue-eyed soul approach. In fact, the best tracks on the album, such as the excellent Movin’ On and the downbeat, reflective Your Heart’s Not In It benefit from their simpler, more stripped-down arrangements, which showcase Hansard’s excellent voice.

The album grows with every listen, which is surely a good sign, but tracks like Wreckless Heart really don’t need the horn section, which distracts from the poignancy of the song, especially when they wander into an MOR middle eight that sounds like it should be heard in a Vegas lounge. There is a pervading feeling that the album has been overproduced.

Glen Hansard is a very good songwriter with a distinct and very listenable, world-weary voice that lends a lot of credibility to his songs; songs that tackle the human condition and how so many of us often feel adrift in the world, trapped between two shores, as the album title says. He should have more confidence in his songs and their ability to stand alone, because they really don’t need so much production and they don’t readily lend themselves to brass sections and strings arrangements.

There is so much quality in the songs here that you do feel it’s only a matter of time before Hansard makes a really great album. This isn’t it but it’s not a bad marker along the road to better things.

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