From Ballymun to Belfast and Asbury Park
Okay, so it’s not really surprising that this one’s good. Glen Hansard is one of the most consistently impressive artists to come out of Ireland for many, many years. So yes, “surprising” isn’t quite the word for the Drive All Night EP. Maybe “satisfying” is best. Whatever– it’s a lovely album, let’s get to it.
The first song to show up is the title track. “Drive All Night” is as Springsteen as Springsteen hits get; it’s a gentle, bluesy sprawl and Hansard handles it like he was born for it. Hansard will never be able to escape comparisons to Van Morrison, and for good reason, but he’s also got some points in common with the Boss. There’s a soulfulness common to both of them that meshes perfectly with mournful lyrics and an even more mournful sax. Listen to Hansard launch into the first note of the refrain and you’ll see what we mean. “Drive All Night” also features a couple of interesting guest stars. Jake Clemons, the nephew of deceased E-Street saxophonist Clarence Clemons, echoes his uncle’s piece and lays down a hell of a solo to boot. Eddie Vedder, a longtime friend of Hansard, also pops up for some extremely understated harmonies. Most listeners won’t even notice his presence until he takes center stage in the outro. “Drive All Night” is the title track for a reason; it’s a showcase and an easy highlight. Hansard deserves a hand for this one.
It’s so good, in fact, that the second song “Pennies In The Fountain” suffers as a result. It isn’t a bad song, but the quiet, reflective lyrics come off as weak and a little cheesy after the impact of its predecessor. “Pennies in the Fountain” winds up as an unfortunate weak spot on the EP; it doesn’t have the punch or the depth of other songs, and Hansard does himself the disservice of never truly opening up vocally. It contains a few potent bits of lovelorn imagery, but doesn’t rise to the level of the rest of the album, unlike, say…”Renata.”
At least Hansard comes back strong. He doesn’t shy away from the Van Morrison path, either. “Renata” shows some hallmarks of Hansard’s Irish colleague, the “la lalala la” sections being the most obvious. The rest, with its halting, almost gasping spurts of vocals, is also a little reminiscent of Morrison’s slower, more contemplative work. While it never quite hits the heights of “Into the Mystic,” for instance, it does contain a decent amount of ethereal charm.
Closing track “Step Out Of The Shadows” is fully a capella. Hansard’s voice sounds naked for the lack of an instrumental backing, but not in a bad way. There’s an undeniable aching appeal in Hansard’s voice. It’s a short track, but it’s just enough time for Hansard to go through his paces. Don’t listen to this EP with any expectations; instead, close your eyes and enjoy. It’s the right way to close this one out.