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Review: Glen Hansard, 'Didn't He Ramble'

Cover art for <em>Didn't He Ramble.</em>
Courtesy of the artist
Cover art for Didn't He Ramble.

Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard has proven incredibly versatile throughout a career spanning more than 25 years. In The Frames, he's mixed vein-bulging intensity, string-laden elegance and a rock star's flair for rafter-shaking anthems. In The Swell Season, he's indulged his romantic side, pairing with Czech singer Marketa Irglova for songs that swooned and ached with an undercurrent of hard-won optimism. (The pair even won an Oscar for "Falling Slowly" from Once, the 2007 movie in which they starred together.) Finally, as a solo artist, Hansard has recorded two albums of stately, alternately hopeful and heartsick ballads.

Hansard's second solo record, Didn't He Ramble, gives his pensive side a workout, as the tone-setting opener "Grace Beneath The Pines" makes clear from the outset. But a spirit of keep-your-chin-up perseverance sets in quickly, giving the album the lived-in, heartfelt quality that's become Hansard's calling card in recent years. "Winning Streak" best embodies this side of the singer, who fills the song with enough infectious goodwill to fill a graduation party. Many music-industry veterans get more craggy and bitter with age, but he's only become more generous and forgiving in his career's third decade.

As always, Hansard surrounds himself with a crack team of like-minded collaborators, from Iron And Wine's Sam Beam to Sam Amidon to album co-producer Thomas Bartlett (a.k.a. Doveman), for a sound that retains its subtle, graceful elegance no matter how many horns and strings work their way into the mix. But the central ingredient remains Hansard's worn but wonderfully flexible voice, which sounds as kind and expressive as ever, with warmth to match the songs he sings.

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Stephen Thompson
Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)