Irish singer brings multicultural sound
August Pelliccio—Photo Editor
Delicately beautiful Persian vocals, Spanish-style classical guitar, Middle Eastern winds and strings: influences from around the globe round out the newest album by Irish singer Glen Hansard.
The album, “This Wild Willing,” is the most experimental project Hansard has released in recent years. The artist spent time in Paris, France while recording the album, and invited new and old musical friends of Iranian, Dutch, Irish and Spanish descent, to record with him.
“It became quickly apparent in the studio we were onto something interesting,” Hansard wrote in a statement for his Bandcamp site.
The songwriter got his start in the music business in Dublin, Ireland in 1990 with a group called The Frames, though his songwriting goes back further to busking on the city’s streets.
His origins have shone through in multiple pieces of his work to this day with The Frames, The Swell Season and his solo career. Vigorous acoustic guitar and an ambitious approach to projecting vocals are characteristic traits of Hansard’s music, but “This Wild Willing” is a departure from Hansard’s street-singing roots.
Approach to songwriting sounds most similar to the artist’s previous work in partnership with Marketa Irglova in The Swell Season. Irglova is satellite feature vocalist on a few of the tracks, and many more of the album credits go to musicians from around the world.
“When you surround yourself with great musicians and do your best to keep up, stay loose, give little direction, and allow everyone to bring what they bring, something transformative may happen,” Hansard wrote.
Aida Shahghasemi, an Iranian singer and daf percussion instrument player adds a colorful Persian element to the album, starting with the third track, “Fool’s Game.” The recording has a focus on Hansard’s vocals in the first few verses, with light but peaceful accompanying instrumentation. Suddenly, midway through the track, a loud and busy wall of sound interrupts the otherwise tame song. Hansard has included such a crowded sound in his recordings before, but usually after a long and gradual swell.
Furthermore, the atfirst obtrusive interjection of various instruments grows with a compelling intensity before fading out to make room for a vocal exit by Shahghasemi that can only be described as haunting. “Fool’s Game” is the first hint that this album is unlike any other in Hansard’s discography.
“Race to the Bottom” immediately picks up with a modal sound reminiscent of traditional South Asian or Middle Eastern music. Non-traditional chord tones complement Hansard’s songwriting well.
Unsuspecting listeners may not even be able to distinguish Hansard’s Irish folk roots.
“The Closing Door” continues the instrumentation and chord arrangements that give the album a multicultural listening experience. The recording has a full sound, giving the track a suspenseful and intense effect.
European influence is brought to the album with “Brother’s Keeper.” Javier Mas plays laud, a traditional Spanish stringed instrument similar to a guitar, on the upbeat track. The latter half is backed with ney, a Persian flutelike instrument, giving the song the intercontinental theme that makes the album so unique.
Tracks such as “Mary” and “Weight of the World” highlight the artist’s connection to traditional Irish folk music and reveal the connection to the work of his past.
The closer for “This Wild Willing” brings the project back home, to the warm and inviting melody and harmony that Hansard’s native culture is founded on. Vocals in “Leave a Light” include trills, suspensions and resolutions that end the album with a characteristically folk motif. Irish Bouzouki, fiddle playing and storytelling lyrics also give the track a decidedly Celtic sound.
Nowhere on the album does Hansard utilize the upper register of his vocal range: a scratchy, strenuous voice that comes out passionately in most of his songs. A few of the tracks even take on a mellow, dark tone, inconsistent with his past work. Though many of the songs on “This Wild Willing” represent a departure from the style long-solidified by the artist, a new, global sound emerged that set a new benchmark for how complex and well-executed a Glen Hansard album can be.
Hansard wrote, “The possibilities of what might emerge in the studio with this broad set of musicians changed my view of the record I was making
Photo Illustration: August Pelliccio