Glen Hansard is a safe pair of hands, when it comes to making albums. Since 1990 he’s releasing music either as part of the bands The Frames and The Swell Season, staring in the films The Commitments and Once and putting out solo recordings. On his sixth album it’s business as usual, but never has Hansard sounded so immediate.
‘Down On Our Knees’ sounds like what a collaboration between Tom Petty and Sonic Youth might have sounded like. The bassline is deep, and groove driven; it doesn’t detour from its trench when it kicks in, helping to ground the track. From there Hansard’s vocals are given free reign to soar or huskily grunt. It all works pretty well and is one of the standout moments on the album. ‘No Mountain’ sees Hansard going into Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens territory. Here are vocals are gracefully soaring over pretty guitar melodies. The song is either about how we all need to beg for forgiveness sometimes or how society has us on our knees and how we much rise against it. The lyrics are ambiguous so it might be about something else, but it does provoke some interesting ideas while listening. And this is what Hansard does well: keeping things vague and allowing you to try and work out what’s going on, rather than giving you all the answers up front.
‘Sure, as the Rain’ is the most melancholic track on the album. The combination of French lyrics and a rising string arrangement, brings to mind Benjamin Biolay at his pomp. Its graceful but broken. Hansard’s vocal delivery touches the heartstrings. ‘Short Life’ is about living in the moment and not wasting any of your time alive. The music is slow and slightly stodgy and one of the few weak tracks on the album.
If you are into classic singer songwriters, this album is for you. Throughout ‘All That Was East is West of Me Now’ you can hear Dylan, Waits, Cave, Stevens/Islam, Cohen and Petty. This is what you’d expect from a journeyman as Glen Hansard. The songs are well written with glorious instrumentation. Hansard is the owner of, well, a decent pair of pipes and whether he’s singing, crooning, bellowing or whispering you feel the emotion in this voice. The downside to the album is, well, we’ve heard it all before. There isn’t anything new here. Vocals, guitars, piano, bass and drums. The problem is there aren’t many places to hide if it goes a bit awry. If you aren’t feeling the start of the song, chances are you won’t feel the middle or the end. Luckily this doesn’t happen very often and overall, the album is strong, if a bit samey.
Words: Nick Roseblade