It takes courage to venture as a singer-songwriter with a clear profile a departure to new shores – and thus the long-standing following. The Irishman Glen Hansard (48) and the American Bruce Hornsby (64) have dared – and won.
Already at the opener of Hansard's new album “This Wild Willing” (Anti- / Indigo) you have to listen twice to hear the (hoarse) band noise, Knurre bass and a stubborn drumbeat, the husky, whispering voice of the singer. Later, there is a string and choir arrangement with a great crescendo reminiscent of Radiohead. Phew!
No, this “I'll Be You, Be Me” is not the pleasant invitation that Hansard expects from the warm, Van Morrison-inspired soul folk of its predecessor “Between Two Shores” (2018). But the new song is great. And the feeling of experiencing something unusual with this album, but something quite grand at the same time, is maintained over the long distance of 65 minutes.
“Do not Settle” is an orchestral ballad, which could also have come from Hansard's great role model Leonard Cohen (apart from the harsh roar at the end). With the folky “Fool's Game” Hansard dims down the volume a bit, but not the intensity. And after three and a half minutes, he also begrudges this song a surprising emo outbreak.
In the liner notes, 2006's Falling Slowly Oscar-winning Hansard (originally frontman of the Irish band The Frames, later in the duo The Swell Season starring the wonderful Markéta Irglová) describes the starting point for his fourth solo album. “With a handful of ideas, a studio booking and a month to put the fragments into songs,” he had come to Paris last July.
Leached by a European tour – whose individual concerts were two and a half to three hours long – and was plagued by an infection he was. With a Hemingway book as “excellent companion for the stay” in the metropolis, he found himself again. The result of the ultimately successful songwriting process are some of the most adventurous, experimental songs in Hansard's career.
Almost all of the twelve tracks listed a dozen musicians, including guests from Iran and France, but also old friends and acquaintances: the well-known from Cohen's live band Javier Mas on the Spanish guitar, Jo Doyle on bass, Ruth O'Mahony Brady to the Keys, David Cleary and Dunk Murphy for electronics and keyboards, Earl Havin on drums, producer David Odlum. Despite all the sonority of this ensemble, Hansard creates a very breezy sound between Irish folk (such as in the touching closer “Leave A Light”), dark pop, ambient and world music.
“This Wild Willing” is a typical headphone album that you should take your time for. It is a record to listen in and hear through – highlighting individual songs from the magnificent overall picture is not worthwhile, but the skip function is also superfluous. Glen Hansard's bravest, ripest, best work of a 25-year career, no question.
Another one that broke out at some point (longer ago than at Hansard): Who brings the name Bruce Hornsby only with the number one hit “The Way It Is” of 1986, should be quite surprised by the new album of the singer and pianist , If you know the career of the Grammy winner, who turned away from the mainstream back in the 90s, then Absolute Zero (Zappo Productions / Thirty Tigers / Alive) sounds a lot less unfamiliar.
Sure, with Hornby's mass-ready piano pop of the early days, current songs like “Voyager One” have little to do. This song describes the 64-year-old songwriter from Williamsburg / Virginia as “Steve Reich meets Prince”. Minimal music and advanced grooves actually come together congenially. Also (and almost too much) of Prince, specifically of his “When Doves Cry”, reminds the playful “fractals”.
In Cast-Off, a leading figure in the electronically alienated neo-folk acts as singer and co-songwriter: Justin Vernon from the hipster project Bon Iver. The theme song features Jack DeJohnette, one of the world's best jazz drummers and accompanist of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett. The ingenious brass and string parts of several tracks are contributed by chamber music ensemble yMusic, which has already refined Paul Simon's latest album “In The Blue Light” (2018).
Bruce Hornby's “Absolute Zero” is thus the ambitious late work of a now trained in jazz, avant-garde and film soundtrack works musician, who apparently no longer switched to the pop market. 33 years after his breakthrough with a (certainly very nice) song for the format radio, the American is further away than ever from making himself comfortable with pleasing gimmicks.
Concerts Glen Hansard in May: 8.5. Cologne, 9.5. Frankfurt / Main, 16./17./19.5. Berlin