With Oscar, Grammy and Tony Awards to his name — all shared with Marketa Irglova for their music for the indie film turned Broadway hit “Once” — Glen Hansard is a legit rock star who counts Bono, Bruce Springsteen and Eddie Vedder as friends and gets invited to perform with the LA Philharmonic (as he will do this weekend). Yet Hansard still comes across like the working-class teen who quit school at 13 to bang his guitar for tips on the street. No doubt songwriting craft supports the persona fans love, but he still wears his heart on his sleeve. He still busks on Grafton Street in his native Dublin at Christmastime (alongside other Irish artists who’ve made good), and he recently joined other musicians there in occupying an abandoned building on behalf of the homeless to protest government inaction.
Since his Swell Season collaborations with Irglova, the Irish songwriter’s solo recordings have gradually asserted his creative independence from “Once,” not entirely unlike the way that sleeper hit erased memories of Hansard’s youthful turn as a Motown-playing musician in Alan Parker’s 1991 film “The Commitments.” 2015’s Grammy-nominated “Didn’t He Ramble” was warmed by woody Irish fiddle and called up childhood characters and places like “McCormack’s Wall.” “Between Two Shores,” his third solo album, is notably different.
Basic tracks were recorded during a quick tour break three years ago at Jeff Tweedy’s studio in Chicago, when Hansard and his band were in fine, road-honed form. With horn charts, midtempo rockers and the yearning balladry that’s become his signature, he seems to be marking a particular juncture with nods to various phases of his career — street busker, “The Commitments,” his tenure with Irish rockers the Frames, “Once,” post-Oscar and post-Tony troubadourism — as he finds new footing. His lyrics are plainspoken to a fault but the tunes are sturdy and simple, highlighting the expressive richness of Hansard’s singing. Few mainstream rockers can match him for soulful eloquence.
“Why Woman” and “Wreckless Heart” sway to aching melodies, complemented by trumpet solos evoking late nights, long walks and solitude; “Time Will Be a Healer,” addressing a busted relationship, assumes broader political resonance in the current moment. None possess the haunting grace of “Once” or “Didn’t He Ramble,” yet they are emotionally direct, in the moment — and, like “Between Two Shores” more generally, they illuminate Hansard’s overall artistry. “Time Will Be the Healer,” in particular, feels like a statement of purpose learned from three decades of unpacking guitars, plugging in, and hoping the audience will affirm your dreams.
“Stay busy with your work and don’t give in
To the bottle or your self-defeat again …
Time will see you through this, you’ll live to tell
Time will pick you up and serve you well
A life lived true and full is the best prevail
’Cause time will stand for something in the end”
Glen Hansard performs solo at Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Downtown LA, at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 10, $53-$92; and with the LA Philharmonic at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 11, $58-$82. Info: (323) 850-2000. glenhansardmusic.com, laphil.com