Listening to Glen Hansard always feels, above anything else, like coming home after a long journey. Which is funny, because many of his songs evoke the comfort of taking a journey, but maybe it’s because so much of it feels so at home in Chicago, one of my favorite cities and the place where much of his latest album, Didn’t He Ramble, was recorded.
If you’ve been here before, you already know how much I love Glen. He’s come up in multiple posts, and I recently reviewed his band’s 20th anniversary album: Longitude, by the Frames. I have seen him live several times, been able to chat with him after many of his shows, and I am just a huge Glen fan in general. So it should probably come as no surprise that many of the songs on Didn’t He Ramble were not new to me, even though this particular album is.
In total, there were just two songs I’d never heard before, but that didn’t stop this from instantly becoming one of my favorite albums. The record opens quiet and slow on “Grace Beneath the Pines,” a good prologue to the stories that we’ll be hearing and feels like both a callback to some combination of Irish balladeers and rock and roll heroes that came before and it is truly and perfectly a Glen Hansard song.
Just as notable as the opening track, however, is “Wedding Ring,” which follows in the tradition of his previous album of feeling like it’s starting us on our journey. Of course, hearing Glen sing it on the record isn’t nearly as satisfying as when trombonist and jazz legend in his own right, Curtis Fowlkes, sings the low and slow standard-waiting-to-happen during the live shows…but Glen tries his best, and the track certainly stands out in its own right.
The rest of the album continues to follow suit in much the same way as the opening tracks: it is mellow, thoughtful, and carries you along a leisurely pace that feels much more Irish than Glen’s debut solo album, Rhythm and Repose. Many of the tracks are favorite live songs that have been given new life, from “Winning Streak” to the choral-infused “Her Mercy,” which paired with “McCormick’s Wall,” which also already feels like an old Irish song that we’ve heard thousands of time already, becomes that mid-album shift in the story that Glen does so well, this time paired with an interlude that I can only describe as a full traditional Irish jig shoved squarely in the middle of this mellow rock album…and it works perfectly.
As we move into the second act of the album, “Lowly Deserter” opens up with really great irish influenced rock and horns and truly marks our shift in the story. This is where the album really picks up, and this is a fresh, new song that hearkens to sounds like those of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, but is still distinctly Glen. The rhythm reminds me of the would-be album closer “Her Mercy,” but with a different sound, and a different mood.
“Paying My Way” and “My Little Ruin” follow and are both beautiful, illustrative tracks, but they lead up to “Just To Be The One,” the first song on the album that I didn’t recognized. I loved the vibe of it, and it reminded me distinctly of “The Storm, It’s Coming” from the previous album.
In spite of never wanting the album to end (much in the same way that I could hear Glen play live for three solid hours and still want more) the closing track, “Stay The Road,” does something remarkable in making us truly appreciate the closing of a story and the path that we’ve taken thus far. It is a perfect finale, but also something that reminds us both in sound and lyric to keep going: there will be more music, more gigs, more albums, and more to life if the point we’re at now is feeling too difficult to manage.
At just 39 minutes, this is not a lengthy album, but it succeeds in taking is through a journey, which is the best you could hope for with any record. It is beautiful, well composed, well produced, and is just as strong as it’s predecessor, if not more so. As someone who’s heard a lot of these songs before, I was really impressed to see that Glen has not just recorded the tracks that he’s been playing for a few years now, but he’s really been honing his solo sound down to something truly unique…no doubt thanks in part, at least a little bit, to his backing band of merry men.
If you’re a fan of The Frames, Glen Hansard, or any of the other folksy Irishmen that tend to join Glen in gigs and in genre, you want this album. But even more so, if you’ve never heard of Glen before or are just looking for something relaxing, uplifting, and inspiring, this record is an absolutely perfect introduction to his music and something that will be right at home in your headphones, especially if you like a new twist on traditional Irish sounds.
If you have Spotify and would like to listen before you buy, you can stream the album here.