Between Two Shores (Anti-)
While the two shores referred to in the Irishman’s title probably are France and the USA, the two physical locations for the album’s recording, the record’s emotional and sonic centre is decidedly far more on the western side of that equation.
Between Two Shores is a collection of songs that exist in a solidly blue collar, gut-driven, intensely felt, unashamedly emotional but self-controlled territory that is post-glam/glitter and pre-new wave, old industrial cities and urban landscapes.
There’s some swing in Wheels On Fire, especially its organ solo, but it’s a meaty song for above ground rail rather than top down highway runs. Lucky Man inhabits late night eateries where quiet conversations share wisdom along with the plastic bottles of mustard and sauce.
Most of the songs inhabit a zone where tracks push harder at soul’s border with rock but never give in to the dreaded power balladry. Where blues gives some ground to a muscular, personal pop edge without turning into the maligned singer/songwriter mode.
And where a song such as Time Will Be The Healer convinces you beyond its first wave of clichés by simply living in the truth of its story.
That ground conceded mind you is only in the sense that Hansard’s songs don’t chugg on a twelve bar, or power through in overdrive, but instead put melodies to work in pressing – actually, in hard pressed, like their protagonists’ lives - circumstances.
Movin On, pared back and half in/half out of the church, is bruised and scraped like a face avoiding both the razor and the nurse. Setting Forth comes at you like a heartbreak, a sway in its tempo, but leaves you walking with dignity instead of slumped shoulders.
In other words, Between Two Shores nods – sometimes even overtly in the lyrics – to Springsteen and Seger, Prine and Raitt, and Rolling Thunder-era Dylan. Even Hansard’s deep love for Van Morrison, which flowered wonderfully in his last album, Didn’t He Ramble, leans to Van’s blues/soul side more than the “Celtic” as you can hear in Why Woman, where there’s even a hint of wasted country.
None of these by the way are bad things in my eyes, even if you are wary of heart-on-the-sleeve, reasonably blokey fare. Tempered by craft, emotional rock like this can be fascinating rather than domineering, and Hansard’s own intensity, which at times hampered his work with The Frames, has dialled down in recent albums and here again feels focused.
The album opens as it means to go on, Roll On Slow coming across like Otis Redding backed by the early E Street Band, with Springsteen on lead guitar. The musicians feel like a bar band, chop like a soul band and Hansard pushes from the gut rather than the heart or head.
And that mood, if not necessarily the sonic surrounds, is still at play near the end as Hearts Not In It dresses as a ballad but can’t help showing its soul slip underneath, raising a line of perseverance out of the darkness that could one day be optimism.
Which it never hurts to be reminded is possible, something that holds true on both sides of the Atlantic. And elsewhere.