Ex member of The Frames and winner of an Oscar (Best Original Song, 2007 for Falling Slowly from the film Once) Glen Hansard is perhaps second only to Van Morrison in the recognition stakes when folk talk about current Irish singers (Bono excluded). He’s carved a reputation as a soul searching sensitive chap especially after allowing the breakup of his relationship with Marketa Irglova (his co Oscar winner and partner) to be pored over in the documentary The Swell Season. Didn’t He Ramble is his second solo release and there’s plenty of wistful pensiveness on it especially when his Irishness is on display (several of the songs have a decidedly Hibernian bent) however there’s also a brashness present with a horn section and booming beat featured here and there.
Unfortunately, the mixture of the two makes for an uneven listen. The jangled Lowly Deserter is smothered under parping horns. Her Mercy opens tenderly, almost prayer like, with hushed guitar and sensitive keyboards adding to the sanctified mood. Halfway through a choir and horn section confirm this but the song then looses any subtlety as the horns elbow their way into front space. The horns are used more successively on Just To Be The One; muted, with flute and string embroidery here they fit Hansard’s melodic delivery like a glove.
No such concerns with the remainder of the songs with the opening, Grace Beneath the Pines is an atmospheric emerald piece with Hansard emoting in a poetic bent as he alludes to Frost (grace upon this road less travelled) and Yeats (There’ll be no more running round for me/no more going down you will see) over a sombre string backing. The song recalls fellow Celt Jackie Leven as it builds in intensity. Wedding Ring is a stumblebum folky song with an easygoing beat and Paying My Way grumbles along in a low-key Springsteen fashion. McCormack’s Wall is the most evidently Irish song with Hansard’s voice accented as he hymns some of his homeland’s delights before ending the song with a fiddle led jig. Stay The Road sees Hansard and his guitar closing the album and is evidence that he is at heart a troubadour, his words expertly crafted and carried expertly aloft by his nimble fingers. A simple song but an excellent ending. There’s simplicity evident also on the song Winning Streak, a winning folk rock number that is immediately hummable and memorable. The concern here is that it’s because the song has a close resemblance to Dylan’s Forever Young along with a dollop of John Prine. Having said that it’s a fine listen.