There’s irony in the fact that Glen Hansard’s first solo album comes just a week after the Broadway musical Once triumphed at the Tony Awards. 2007′s film-version original of that musical, starring Hansard and the wispy Czech pianist Marketa IrgolovÃ¡, brought the romantic and creative duo widespread fame. The duo, who eventually dubbed themselves The Swell Season, began recording together in 2008, but the love affair didn’t last: They announced their breakup after touring behind 2009′s Strict Joy, and IrglovÃ¡ married producer Tim Iseler in 2011. Hansard, meanwhile, has been living in New York, keeping an eye on Once while breaking in a new set of collaborators. While the end product isn’t leagues away from his work with IrglovÃ¡ or his longtime band, The Frames, Rhythm and Repose steers away from the latter’s anguished anthems and the former’s fragile harmonies.
R&R is a heartbreak album through and through, but it leans more towards self-reflection than self-laceration, like a more melancholy, less pissed-off Blood on the Tracks. (It’s not surprising that the late Levon Helm was asked to guest on a track.) Those sifting for shards of autobiography will seize on lines like “We talked about talk of a gold ring/ You brought me one step closer to the heart of things” and “We married on an August night/ No priest, no church, just the big moon shining bright,” from “You Will Become” and “Maybe Not Tonight.” Unless you’ve got a chronic weakness for Irish melodrama, the album’s front-loaded breast-beating starts to wear thin after a while; it’s hard to hear “The Storm, It’s Coming,” nestled just after the midpoint, and suppress the temptation to remark that it’s already done come.
Fortunately, Hansard pulls out of his emotional nosedive with “What Are We Gonna Do,” where a female voice (not IrglovÃ¡’s) lifts him out of his torpor and sets him on the path to recovery. He’s still only beginning to heal by the time Rhythm and Repose draws to a close; a little “Revelate” style catharsis would have done much to lift the album out of its perpetual doldrums. But its limited palette is a lovely one, sustaining a mood that lingers like the bittersweet scent of lost love.