Glen Hansard is a troubadour of the breakup, but his second solo effort, Didn’t He Ramble, is anything but sad.
The Irish folk veteran doesn’t shy from heartache, he sings about it with excruciating grace. In 2007, he starred in Once alongside Marketa Irglova, a film about two musicians falling in love, an onscreen romance that won the two an Oscar and birthed a love beyond the big screen. And in 2011, his earnest bravery delivered The Swell Season documentary, detailing the painful dissolution of the famed lovers. He writes beautiful homages to love, and equally ornate eulogies to it, but this record feels less about heartache and more about introspection, patriotism, encouragement and healing — and it works.
So much of the dialogue in Didn’t He Ramble is filled with empathy and understanding, highlighted by Hansard’s signature wail, no longer lamenting heartache, but straining to encourage the subject of his stories. Immediately easy on the ears, in “Winning Streak” he cries out through the chorus, “And may the sign of the cross be some comfort when you’re lost / Help you when you’re all broke down / May the spirit of good brethren turn you around / And may the devil leave the light, pass you right by / Don’t you look back, my friend / And may the sisters of good charity take you in.” A kind offering of art, he told NPR, “Winning Streak is simply a well wish to a friend, to someone who’s been finding it hard to see the goodness in their lives.”
Produced by Thomas Barlett (The National, Sufjan Stevens) the instrumentation is signature in its folk melodies, but the use of rich brass sections really brings the record to life, blending beautifully with the heights of Hansard’s fluctuating tone. The best example of this, “Her Mercy” takes us to church, beginning with Hansard’s soft falsetto, quickly it turns up with horns blaring and hymnal harmonies rising as he roars through the chorus singing, “Mercy Mercy Come into ya / feel her beauty flowin’ through ya.”
Busking on the streets of Dublin alongside Damien Rice and Bono each year, it’s no secret that Hansard is proud of his Irish heritage and that pride is sprinkled throughout Didn’t He Ramble with fiddle solos and cheering odes to Irish veterans. A departure, both in aggressive sound and dialogue, “Lowly Deserter” is the story of an anti-war hero, but it’s the best song on the record, with its bluesy groove and growl, it’s so catchy it leaves a yearning for more Americana tinged tracks from the folk master.
There’s something quietly intense and charismatic about Glen Hansard, a man constantly seeking. I once found him blended in a crowd at a Damien Rice concert in Brooklyn, and it probably comes as no surprise that his guise of beard and overcoat in dim lighting served well to hide amid the Greenpoint crowd, but I remember he told me he liked to watch shows from the audience view, sharing the energy and the authentic experience. Didn’t He Ramble extends that same desire for sincerity.