Glen Hansard – Didn’t He Ramble (Anti-)

Storied Dublin based singer-songwriter returns with highly accomplished second solo LP

Released Sep 18th, 2015 via Anti- / By John Dineen
Glen Hansard – Didn’t He Ramble (Anti-) Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard is most famous as one half of the oscar winning duo The Swell Season whose songs and acting gave the hit indie-film Once much of its charm. More seasoned followers of the Irish music scene will know Hansard as the front-man of legendary Dublin band The Frames whose emotive alternative rock is inexplicably less well known than their many acolytes such as Snow Patrol. Equally, Hansard's solo work, especially his astonishingly committed acoustic performances, are less celebrated than the work of his compatriot and middle of the road dweller Damien Rice.

It goes without saying that artistic success is often divorced from commercial success but in Hansard's case this disconnect is genuinely mystifying. He is not a difficult artist like Captain Beefheart but a wonderfully direct and emotional songwriter who has that rare gift of making music that is simultaneously a personal communication as well as an inclusive communion. This is a convoluted way of saying that he writes songs that feel like they're about your own life.

As a serial collaborator it is perhaps unsurprising that Didn't He Ramble is actually only his second solo album following 2012's Rhythm and Repose. Whilst his first solo album was an excellent collection of songs it suffered slightly from it's overly tasteful production and arguably overwritten songs. Didn't He Ramble certainly does not suffer from these issues as whilst the production is still unpretentious and clean there is more of a sense of spontaneity in both the song writing and performance.

The album opens with the gospel tinged funeral march of 'Grace Beneath the Pines' which harks back to the intimate balladry of his Swell Season work with a more spiritual twist in both the lyrics and the performance. Not the usual energetic album opener and a song that leaves you in no doubt that Hansard is not resting on his laurels and has something to say. This is followed by 'Wedding Ring', a deceptively breezy song that explores the ancient male fallacy that every wild girl just needs the right man to tame her. Hansard's mellow and downbeat delivery inverts the inherent sexism of this old rock and roll trope and exemplifies the deceptive cleverness of much of his songwriting.

The lead single, 'Winning Streak' is a textbook example of the warmth and humanity that characterises much of his songwriting. A compassionate pledge of solidarity with a spiritually troubled friend, it is one of those songs that feels like it was plucked from the air rather than written. Like all the great songwriters he can write songs that sound classic when they're new and 'Winning Streak' is perhaps the best example of this rare talent on the album. Whilst this song is typical Hansard, unlike his previous solo album, Didn't He Ramble strays more widely from this formula. 'Lowly Deserter' is a raucous folk song that shows Mumford and Sons how to inject passion and humour into a classic foot stomper. Also, 'My Little Ruin', an unusually groovy ballad, exemplifies how Hansard has found new ways to sing about old truths.

The album closes with a typically delicate heartbreaker but within its varied ten songs we hear Hansard explore the possibilities of arrangement more widely than ever before. The album is filled with piano, organ and horns which manage to augment his usual stripped back sound in subtle and beautiful ways. Credit is due to Thomas Bartlett of Sufjan Stevens and The National fame for drawing these new sounds without compromising the emotional impact of Hansard's typically engaging songs.

Hansard is quoted as saying that his three songwriting heroes are Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Van Morrison. Well he's definitely channelling Van Morrison more than the other two with this release as it finds him in a spiritual and spontaneous mood that values heart more than head and is all the more enjoyable for it. He can't compete with Dylan or Cohen lyrically but when it comes to soul, there are few songwriters that can compete.