Glen Hansard • Rhythm and Repose
It is almost hard to believe that, with decades of successful records, an Oscar and a Tony, it was only this year that Glen Hansard (of Once fame) released his first solo album. Rhythm and Repose is an earnest and vivid collection from the Irish songwriter known for his work with bands The Frames and The Swell Season. Given Hansard’s previous work and the weighty label of “singer songwriter,” this solo effort was anticipated to be an acoustic collection, softer if predictable. That, however, is not Rhythm and Repose. Masterfully produced by Thomas Bartlett, the album is a combination of vulnerable folk, playful ditties and powerful explosions of song. And while these are Hansard’s first steps on his own, his style and arrangements echo back to the familiar Frames slow build and the guttural scream that Hansard is famous for.
Rhythm and Repose is like a long journey at sea, peaceful and sun-filled one moment, the next a thrashing hurricane. In “Birds of Sorrow” Hansard evokes the latter, beginning with a whisper of vocals that explodes into his signature howl. “Talking with the Wolves” brings the lovely familiar sound of Marketa Irglova’s vocals, and for a moment feels like a follow-up to the Swell Season. Much of the album builds on Hansard’s previous work, and while it may be a solo debut, it is not a departure from the sound that Hansard has cultivated for years.
Len Graham & Brían Ó hAirt • In Two Minds
Len Graham and Brían Ó hAirt have teamed up for a very unique collection of duets titled In Two Minds. Graham has long been a staple of the Celtic folk community, boasting an astounding repertoire of ballads and folk songs. Ó hAirt is more of a newcomer, with some decent buzz around his band, Bua. Ó hAirt has become the young champion of unaccompanied singing, the style which dominates most of In Two Minds.
While some familiar and popular Irish folk tunes make their way onto the record, the experienced and learned vocalists also include some rare treats of songs they learned from friends, songs whose age and authors are unknown. One such mystery tune, “One Morning in May,” showcases the best of the duo’s harmonies – soft and airy. It’s a quiet summer day album. A brave move for both singers is that the majority of the album is unaccompanied vocals. With some guest appearances of flutes and Irish dancing feet for rhythm, the album is a bit of a love letter to the lost arts of both the Celtic duet and the a cappella song form. It’s a bold but sweet album with a truly original collection that is both timeless and fresh.
Donall Donnelly • Tremolo
This solo project, Tremolo, masterminded by Tyrone fiddler Donall Donnelly, is a fantastic album packed with personality and energy. Fortunately, the album has led to the formation of a band of the same name, consisting of four master players.
The album itself is a wonderful combination of experienced finesse and youthful energy. “Julia’s Jigs” is a prime example of Donnelly’s musical personality: rambunctious and playful. To shake up the traditional collection, Donnelly includes “Mi Sueño,” a Mexican folk song that blends well into the album as a whole, while injecting a welcome variety to the sound. Throughout Tremolo, Donnelly’s arrangements take few risks, but what he accomplishes within the standard trad format is exhilarating. Already receiving buzz around the new band, Donnelly proves he not only has the ear of a polished player, but also the personality to create a distinct and memorable sound. Tremolo will definitely be a band to watch as Donnelly channels his talent into the future of the ensemble.