Glen Hansard’s solo career is perhaps best characterized by its remarkable consistency. Since the massive success of Once, as well as strong follow-up projects with Marketa Irglova, Hansard has yet to rest on his laurels. ‘Rhythm and Repose’, his first official exploration of the previously unchartered waters of solo work, was a solid collection, though peppered with experimental edges which suggested an artist trying to find his feet in unknown territory. ‘Didn’t He Ramble’ matches the quality of its predecessor, but with more confidence.
Put simply, this is the quintessential Glen Hansard album.
Having settled into the creative dimension of a solo artist and fostered the development of a live sound, Didn’t He Ramble captures all of Hansard’s songwriting qualities, as well as mirroring the musical dynamics of his live performances. It is clear that these songs can stand on their own two feet without a band, but at the same time they were clearly written while being mindful of the potential for band input. The results are a perfect blend of songwriting integrity and powerful instrumentation.
Her Mercy opens with a voice and guitar, but steadily introduces percussion, brass and backing vocals to tremendous effect. What begins as somewhat of a laid-back ballad develops into a rousing anthem laced with longing and hope. “Mercy, mercy, oh won’t you give me some!?” Hansard bellows as crashing waves of musical furore give his words emotional backup.
Elsewhere Hansard takes the lead with his mandolin on Lowly Deserter, as the band give the song a lively pulse with some inspired work from the brass and string sections. The song is one of the more carefree on the record with a fun rhythm and an energy, which will no doubt translate well into Hansard’s live shows.
Coupled with the bigger moments on the album, are the more unassuming moments, most notably on album opener Grace Beneath The Pines which takes a less-is-more approach. Lyrically rooted in stoicism and defiance, musically it is painfully restrained and uncertain with just a distant hum and a small handful of chords on a piano. This dichotomy between lyrical and musical expression leads one to believe that perhaps when he sings “Whatever lies in store for me, I’ll get through it”, maybe he is trying to convince himself.
There are a number of heart-warming moments, which give some feel-good relief to those who are perhaps a little deflated from the trials, and tribulations of life. Winning Streak is a sweet song where Hansard encourages the listener to keep their chin up. “So roll the dice, boy, ‘cause my money’s on you, take my advice now, put your money down too…and may your winning streak, may it never end”, he sings with confidence. Later, he sings of a friend who has all the gifts of life but seems doomed to squander them in My Little Ruin. Thematically rooted in something similar to Winning Streak, it takes a separate perspective on concern for another, that of frustration. “I’m not gonna stand aside and watch them tear you up, because you’re better than they are!!”
‘Didn’t He Ramble’ will come to be seen as a very important album for Hansard because it is a collection of songs that perfectly define him at this stage of his career. Having become an Irish institution as well as developing a strong rapport with listeners outside of Ireland, those waiting for a slump in his upward trajectory probably shouldn’t hold their breath.