Between Two Shores is Hansard’s third solo album and, rather than finding him adrift as its title might suggest, it sees him grounded as a solo artist for the first time. Plenty of the songs from his first two outings would’ve passed unnoticed as Frames songs but this album really seems to put an end to all of that. I will always associate Glen Hansard with the raw crunch and visceral angst of ‘Pavement Tune’ and the Zeppelin crashings of ‘The Stars Are Underground’ (that said, I do always seem to be about twenty years behind the times) but that urgent, exploratory rock of youth has totally given way to an effortless songwriting maturity and an altogether more seasoned approach to making records.
The solid backbeat, electric guitar, Hammond and prominent horns of opener ‘Roll On Slow’ display an unashamedly big and undeniably American sound while the more soulful ‘Why Woman’ is pure, undisguised Van Morrison. Like I said, we are not all at sea here; this is safe, familiar ground. Thankfully, the fragility and intimacy that fans know Hansard for is still detectable in tracks like ‘Wreckless Heart’ and ‘Movin On’ though they are tempered by the slick performances of Hansard’s band and the straightforward arrangements.
Between Two Shores marks Hansard’s debut as producer and he has pushed for a classic, timeless sound. And yes, there is a strong whiff of Radio 2 about proceedings -‘Wreckless Heart’ features a trumpet solo straight from a Fry and Laurie sketch, for instance - but the emotional crack in Hansard’s vocal keeps things well in balance. It’s this audibly genuine sentiment that, for me, marks the great songwriters apart from the ones who find themselves still making records long after they’ve run out of ideas.
Particularly appealing is the record’s centrepiece, ‘Setting Forth’; driven by beautiful strings, piano and Hansard’s raggedly strummed acoustic. Its themes of breaking away and starting afresh chime with anyone who finds themselves at one of life’s crossroads: “I’m setting forth with my instincts / I’m setting forth with my doubts / I’m letting go of everything that tries to stop me now”. It’s a good reminder of Hansard’s fine way with words and his gift for infusing them with universal feeling.
I confess that the softblown saxophones and organ of ‘Lucky Man’ are totally irresistible even though I’m reluctant to admit that I am now of an age where luxuriating in this sort of grand, transatlantic soul has quite an appeal. Next up is the record’s secret weapon, ‘One Of Us Must Lose’, where an unusual mix of showtune strings, Nashville pedal steel and insistent, indie electric guitar strums all somehow come together to underpin a haunting, harmonised lead vocal. Inspired.
If, like me, you’ve suddenly discovered you’re fast approaching middle age but aren’t at all ready to go and buy a comfy pair of slippers and a wingback chair to sit in while you listen to records then Glen Hansard is here to help. Between Two Shores is the sound of a man making peace with his status as a National Treasure and settling into a well-earned legendary sound. There’s no need for you to flail around, wondering how you got into these murky waters of jazz and soul; let Captain Hansard swim out, rescue you and bring you safely on to dry land.
Review by Rich Barnard.