Secret Meeting score: 71
by Phil Scarisbrick
There’s an old adage that says that you should never meet your heroes. The internet is littered with tales of despair from people who have done just that, with it falling way short of expectations. However, Glen Hansard’s story about meeting his hero – Van Morrison – is superb. You can watch the whole story for yourself in the YouTube video at the bottom of the page, but I will summarise it for you.
He was a teenage busker and was invited to a party at the Guinness family home in Dublin (yes, that Guinness). Also in attendance was Van Morrison, his absolute idol. He got up and sang one of Van Morrison’s songs, but half way through ‘Van The Man’ left the room. Afterwards, Hansard went and sat outside in despair until someone told him to come back inside – Van wanted to speak to him. The two of them ended up in a room alone and played songs to each other until the sun rose. Then he got up and said, “Nice voice, nice songs, bla, bla, bla,” and left.
Though you can hear Van Morrison’s influence on Hansard throughout his back catalogue, never has it been as pronounced as on new album, Between Two Shores. Album opener, Roll On Slow deploys horns in a way that wouldn’t sound out of place on Moondance-era Van Morrison. There is also a nod to someone else who has clearly had an impact on this record with the line, “I wish I wasn’t on my own/ with Thunder Road blasting out on E Street Radio”. This Springsteen influence can also be heard on the Tunnel of Love-evoking Setting Forth, the piano-anchored song that was recorded in a single take, complete with a spine-tingling falsetto that few can achieve the way Hansard does.
For the first time, he has taken situ in the producer’s chair and it clearly suits him. This record sounds fantastic and the layers of strings, brass, piano, guitar and rhythm section are moulded together to create a perfect platform for his amazing voice. The arrangements feel fresh and engaging, hooking the listener in sonically before a word has been sung.
For all the beautiful production and playing though, there lacks a clear direction. While all the songs individually work, as a cohesive piece Between Two Shores falls short of feeling like a proper album. Though there is a thinly-veiled thread of love and loss, there doesn’t seem to be the same focus as his previous work. The songs here are made up of those that didn’t make previous albums and other demos, and that seems to be the reason for this. Wheels of Fire and Wreckless Heart are perfectly good songs, but were likely axed previously because they didn’t fit the narrative rather than them being inferior. Here, that attention to detail when building the track-listing seems to be missing.
The lack of direction, while a shame, shouldn’t detract from some wonderful music. There is real warmth to this record, despite some heartbreaking subject matter. His voice has always been brilliant, but with age it is now better than ever – the added gravel gives it an emotive quality that few can match. Between Two Shores may not have the ferocity and focus of 2015’s Didn’t He Ramble, but is still a very good addition to the Glen Hansard resume. So to summarise: Nice voice, nice songs, bla, bla, bla.