Glen Hansard has played many roles in his 27-year musical career — singer, songwriter, bandleader, duet-half, and actor to name a few. In recent years, Hansard has followed the solo path, releasing three albums under his own name via Anti- Records in the US, although none has reached the success of the soundtrack to 2007’s beloved don’t-call-it-a-documentary, Once, or the cultish following his previous band The Frames enjoyed in their native Ireland. On his third solo album, Between Two Shores, the Irish bard’s work as a vocalist serves as his most engaging and affective tool.
Hansard’s singing has captivated audiences for decades. At once a sturdy vessel for carrying melodies, his voice can also boom into a guttural roar and retreat into a cowering whisper. His control of those effects and emotions veers toward masterful. However, the songs themselves — laden with unspecific allusions to an array of relationship challenges and frustratingly diminutive terms like “woman,” “girl,” and “baby”— cover familiar ground for Hansard.
Between Two Shores opens with the up-tempo “Roll On Slow,” lifted by a triumphant horn section. The horns reemerge in the slower “Lucky Man” and jazzier “Wreckless Heart.” (The latter also deals in tricky wordplay, using “Wreckless” as a term to describe a heart incapable of being destroyed versus the traditional usage of a “Reckless” heart that’s rash and untamed.) While the horns add a retro touch (one that also bolsters the Bruce Springsteen reference in “Roll On Slow”) and experimental element for Hansard, his best work still comes in tragic ballads. Standouts include the rich, Hammond organ-filled “Movin’ On,” which features a rich Hansard playing a 12-string guitar marked with a twangy timbre like it’s been up-tuned, as well as the falsetto-driven album closer “Time Will Be The Healer.”
Between Two Shores works in extremes — its ballads are heartbreaking and its uncharacteristically upbeat rockers are uplifting. And vocally, the album reaches all the peaks and valleys a full-length album needs to construct a journey. But as a whole, Between Two Shores ends up feeling temperate and a bit lyrically lost at sea.