An album that unfurls around you
Glen Hansard’s This Wild Willing is an album that unfurls around you and invites you to enjoy it as much as the musicians enjoyed creating it. The opening track, “I’ll Be You, Be Me” suggests the electronic sound that Hansard originally considered for the album, with a repetitive drum beat and bassline that gradually swells and grows until it fades away, all accompanied by Hansard’s whisper-like vocals.
The album was developed as Hansard and a diverse ensemble of musicians improvised together in the studio. The feeling of improvisation and running with any ideas that come to you is present in the album’s sound throughout. Some songs seem as though they were built out of one interesting idea, like “Don’t Settle” whose enchanting piano riff weaves itself throughout the song as other instruments join in and create layers of sound. Eventually, vocals, percussion, guitar and a horn section join the piano, but the song never loses the intimacy it started with.
Songs like “Weight of the World” and “Good Life of Song” start quietly but grow as they develop, as if the recording is mimicking the way the song was written. Hansard’s vocals are strong, but not always the most important part of the song. What is more important is the way Hansard sings them. In “Weight of the World” the vocals often function more as another instrument, just as but no more important than the piano or the guitar in creating the sound Hansard wants his audience to hear.
In the studio, these players came together to create songs that meander and suggest what to think but do not force you. Hansard’s hushed vocals run throughout the album and create the kind of intimacy you feel when listening to a live performance in a small and welcoming venue. The vocals “Don’t Settle” and “Race to the Bottom” feel like the singer himself is with you in the room.
Moments of intensity like those in “Fool’s Game” offset the softer calm found in “Threading Water.” The persistent guitar in “Brother’s Keeper” evoke Hansard’s earlier work that earned him the reputation as a “balladeer.” The differing moods and sounds push the album from its beginning to end without losing its momentum.
This Wild Willing is a collaboration of many different musicians who all bring their own both traditional and unique ideas. Hansard’s previous collaborators John Doyle, Ruth O’Mahony and Javier Mas are joined by new players, like the Khoshravesh brothers who Hansard met in Paris. Their influence is especially evident on “Race to the Bottom,” with its unique instrumentation and middle eastern sounding saxophone melody played by Michael Buckley.
Iranian singer and Daf player Aida Shahghasemi, traditional Irish musician Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich, violinist Rosie MacKenzie and banjo player Eamon O’Leary are just a few of the other musicians who helped create the album. The experience and talent of each musician compliment each other and blend to make this such a beautiful and enjoyable album.
So many songs on This Wild Willing start softly and the build not only imitates the way the musicians improvised and experimented to create each song, but they reinforce one of the album’s most persistent themes: forward movement. “First of October / the summer’s, over / the leaves are falling” Hansard sings in “Brother’s Keeper.” Time marches forward, the world we know changes, but we can only change with it. Such is a fitting theme for an album that differs so much from Hansard’s previous work. Hansard performs the album with hopefulness about the future, without fear of change, because Hansard’s wild willingness is guiding him forward.