With Between Two Shores, Glen Hansard has crafted a heartfelt rock n’ roll romance. That’s not much of a surprise for an artist who’s always preferred grand, emotional gestures—from his all-inclusive anthems with his band, the Frames, to the hushed intimacy of the songs from writer-director John Carney’s Once, in which he starred. What’s surprising is the album’s quiet confidence and casual assurance. Just three albums into his solo career, Hansard sounds like an old pro; more than any music he’s ever made, the songs on Between Two Shores are possessed of warmth and familiarity.
Earnestness is Hansard’s default state, and he eschews poetic abstractions in favor of directness here—speaking plainly and wearing his heart on his sleeve. Rather than collapsing into generalities, his songs convey an assertive universalism; he doesn’t tell stories as much as he conjures feelings, and this album maintains a conversational tone that adds to its intimacy.
The prevailing mood on Between Two Shores is melancholic, but it’s one that’s buoyed by hopeful determination. Across songs about tumultuous relationships, Hansard alternates between asking his lover to stay and recognizing that perhaps their time together is over. On “Why Woman,” a swaying soul ballad in the Van Morrison vein, he wonders why his partner isn’t more willing to give things a second chance. On “Movin’ On,” though, the narrator is resolute in packing his bags and heading out, and the song’s arrangement mirrors the singer’s inner turmoil: The verses are spare and haunted, but when the chorus hits, Hansard furiously strums his acoustic guitar, breaking into a soulful howl while surrounded by a wailing organ.
Glen Hansard’s Between Two Shores explores themes pertaining to the personal and the political.
“Setting Forth” splits the difference between despair and hopefulness—recognizing that these emotions often go hand in hand. It’s a song about moving forward and taking chances, even when your mind is clouded by uncertainty. “I’m setting forth/With my instinct/I’m setting forth/With my doubts,” Hansard croons over a languid groove courtesy of jazz drummer Brian Blade. The deliberate pacing throughout is key to the success of “Setting Forth”: This isn’t a song about rash decision-making, but rather about careful, knowing resolve, something embodied by its stoic delivery.
For the most part, Hansard keeps the tempos slow, preferring to settle into easygoing rhythms. Even when he does crank up the energy—as he does on the album’s opening track, “Roll on Slow”—the results are loose and limber, not urgent or aggressive. The song captures the casual swagger of early Bruce Springsteen so effortlessly that it’s a shame Hansard explicitly mentions “E Street radio” toward the end—a heavy-handed gesture on an album that’s largely marked by its elegance and unhurried grace.
The lyrics on Between Two Shores mostly meditate on personal relationships, but at times political uncertainty seeps in—most plainly on “Wheels on Fire.” Hansard is clearly directing his words toward an oppressor: “Your one desire is to roll and rule over everyone.” Yet the arc of these lyrics is resilience: “We will overcome,” he pledges as the chorus ends. It’s telling that the most explicitly political song on the album is also the one where Hansard’s melancholy spills over into fury. The track’s jittery organ-and-horns groove builds to a ferocious electric guitar crescendo.
Between Two Shores explores themes pertaining to the personal and the political, to being brokenhearted and resolute, and they all come together in the final track. “Time Will Be the Healer” is a benedictory ballad, with Hansard gently strumming over hushed piano and warm, resonant bass. The song promises that wounds heal and difficult seasons pass—and until then, Hansard endorses: “Keep your friends and neighbors close at hand/Stay busy with your work and don’t give in/To the bottle or your self-defeat again/Time will be the healer once again.” The song feels like intimate counsel from an old friend—one who’s not trying to make dark days subside, but simply offering his companionship until they do. It’s a fitting end for an album that wrestles with heartbreak but always balances it with warmth and sincerity.