The 2008 film Once is still one of my favorite film ever made, and it introduced me to The Swell Season and The Frames’ work. Glen Hansard is the leader and primary songwriter for both of these acts, and he’s now put out a long awaited solo album, Rhythm and Repose, that plays out many of the characteristics that made his work with The Frames and The Swell Season so powerful while still adding just enough new sounds to make for an album that stands with the rest of his works.
“You Will Become” opens the album and sounds exactly like a Swell Season track and it has Marketa Irglova on backing vocals and piano. It’s a very good way to open the album, but like most of the fist half of Rhythm and Repose there’s too much familiarity with other Hansard work. “Maybe Not Tonight” cries out like many Frames songs and “Talking To The Wolves” also goes down the same road, although the percussion keeps the song moving and interesting.
Hansard isn’t the strongest songwriter, the thing that’s always made his songs work are the way he delivers his powerful vocals. And that talent is on full display on many of these tracks. “High Hope” is a paper thin song that would have fallen to pieces in anyone else’s hands. The same criticism can be made on the slow ballad, “Bird of Sorrow”. The song is filled with strings and an odd mixture of optimism and sadness that showed up frequently with The Frames.
While the first batch of songs on Rhythm and Repose doesn’t much to add to Hansard’s catalog, most of the songs are forgiven by the remarkable set of songs that comes afterword, starting with “The Storm, It’s Coming”. Once again, Hansard’s lyrics are quite see-through, but with such a compelling voice that sounds so sure of it’s message, you can’t help but be moved. The song is filled strings that bring the mood of dread that something bad is bound to happen even closer, although Hansard doesn’t bring anything direct to the song that makes it close enough for the listener.
“Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting” is a very upbeat song that might be the best one on Rhythm and Repose that brings to mind Van Morrison’s Moondance with Hansard’s voice and the horns. The dread of “The Storm, It’s Coming” rears it’s head again on “What Are We Gonna Do” that’s almost even darker with some very slow guitar with haunting strings in the background. And while the song starts off very compelling, it carries on for too long and loses it’s feeling towards the end.
There’s more than just acoustic songs here that bring The Swell Season to mind, there’s several moments where added instrumentation makes all the difference. “Races” adds in some organ and banjo that keeps the song from being weak. “Come Away To The Water” also has banjo, and it almost comes out like a country song but Hansard’s style of songwriting keep the song out country territory. “Philanderer” has some very rapid piano at the beginning with Hansard going into a very soft delivery that’s reminiscent of Peter Gabriel.
People already familiar with Hansard’s previous work will find plenty here to enjoy, yet it might not be the best place to start for people who aren’t as knowledgeable with Hansard’s other groups. Rhythm and Repose has Hansard doing what he does best, and having a few missteps along the way. But there’s just enough emotionally engaging tracks to keep this album from being a bland solo venture.
Rating: 7.0 out of 10.