There’s a scene in the recent documentary The Swell Season when Markéta Irglová—half of the eponymous Academy Award–winning folk duo depicted in the film—asks her bandmate/ex-partner Glen Hansard why he has to struggle so much. After all, one might think Hansard’s troubles are behind him: The Irish singer-songwriter dropped out of school to busk on the streets of Dublin at 13 and stayed under the radar for years as the frontman of rock quintet The Frames, but thanks to his starring role in the 2006 indie film Once (and its defining anthem, “Falling Slowly”), he’s since earned international fame.
Hansard, who’s known as much for his musicianship as he is for his starving-artist image (he still uses a guitar he’s literally played a hole into), has consistently managed to find new challenges to replace the old ones. Rhythm and Repose, his first solo album, features the newest batch—which, luckily, make for a quality, heartfelt record. While these 11 tracks never quite reach the same shrieking climaxes as the likes of Once’s “Leave” or “When Your Mind’s Made Up,” the album retains most of the elements that made those tracks work: effortless songwriting, raw emotion, and haunting harmonies (Irglová even sings alongside Hansard on a few tracks).
For all his struggling, Hansard is at his best when he’s slightly quieter and more optimistic (see “High Hope” and the playful “Love Don’t Keep Me Waiting”), which suggests that perhaps he’s beginning to enjoy life a bit more. Or maybe the softer songs are just an attempt to prevent that hole in his guitar from getting any bigger than it already is.
Playlist picks: “High Hope,” “Love Don’t Keep Me Waiting”
CORRECTION, JULY 2, 2012: When this review was first published, it was mistakenly attributed to Lara Zarum, not Luc Rinaldi, as it should have been.