With all the negative news right now, I wanted to write about an album that I find so uplifting, not so much because the songs are particularly happy but because they are comforting and have a spiritual feel to them. Glen Hansard’s 2015 release, Didn’t He Ramble, is one of those albums where you hear the first song and say, “This is my favourite song on the album!” Then you hear the next and say, “No wait… it’s this one!” And so on, all the way through.
In September 2015, Irish singer/songwriter Glen Hansard was on CBC Radio to talk about the album and sing a couple of songs live in studio. Listening to him sing “Winning Streak” and “Her Mercy” gave me chills and I think I downloaded the album the same day. It’s been a regular feature on my playlist ever since. The CBC interview and performance can be found here.
I can’t say I’d heard of Glen Hansard before then, although I probably should have. He was in the movie The Commitments which I saw when it came out in 1991. And he and his band The Frames were in the film Once, with Hansard and Markéta Irglová winning an Oscar for their song “Falling Slowly”. In any case, it’s never too late to discover an artist you enjoy!
Didn’t He Ramble begins with the inspirational “Grace Beneath the Pines”. One continuous string note in the background with just Hansard’s natural vocal over top, only later joined by more strings, piano, bass, and brass instruments:
There’ll be no more running round for me,
no more backing down, you’ll see —
whatever lies in store for me,
I’ll get through it.
There’ll be no more going half the way,
you’d better listen to these words I say —
whatever ties they bound to me,
I’ll cut through them.
All building towards his plaintive “I’ll get through this” repeated over and over. And back down to finding “grace beneath the pines.” So moving and suggesting we all can have the strength to stand our ground and fight on.
“Winning Streak” is an acoustic song written in part for Hansard’s father, who had been a boxer. Beautifully sung with a catchy rhythm, the lyrics wish for the listener only good things…”May good fortune wait on every bend and may your winning streak, may it never end.”
Hansard was inspired by Leonard Cohen when he scribbled “Her Mercy” on a napkin on a plane — he said that he felt almost like a cat bringing a mouse to lay at Cohen’s feet. “When you’re doubting your given powers, when you’re ready for her mercy, when you’re worthy, it will come.” It starts simply with electric guitar and drum and grows to a full instrumentation with strings, brass, and a gospel choir. Amazing!
The lyrics of “McCormack’s Wall” describe it as a drinking song — but it’s not like any Clancy Brothers’ song I ever heard! It is mournful and apologetic, with the singer concluding that “here we are, what’s there to do.” It has a gorgeous fiddle part towards the end, going from smooth violin over piano to a lively jig to finish the song. I think the fiddle is my favourite part. (There I go again with the favourites!)
I could go on and on, because every song is my favourite in the moment, but I’ll leave you with a link to the full album here.
If you have any recommendations of other Glen Hansard songs that you like, I’d love it if you shared them.