NPR logo A Would-Be Icon's Words of Hard-Won Hope

A Would-Be Icon's Words of Hard-Won Hope

Falling Slowly

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Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova's songs ache and swoon amid some of the year's loveliest arrangements. hide caption

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Wednesday's Pick

  • Song: "Falling Slowly"
  • Artist: Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova
  • CD: The Swell Season
  • Genre: Folk-Pop

In their native Ireland, the members of the string-swept rock band The Frames have attracted a rabid following to rival that of their countrymen in U2. Here, they perform at small to midsize clubs, occasionally tour with the likeminded likes of Damien Rice, and sell a modest number of albums as stirring and gorgeous as any released here. One of the best live bands in existence — for evidence, listen to "What Happens When the Heart Just Stops" (audio) from the tremendous 2004 live album Set List — The Frames and singer Glen Hansard seem perpetually on the brink of becoming massively famous, even iconic.

During a brief hiatus from The Frames, Hansard recently recorded The Swell Season, a collaboration with Czech singer and pianist Marketa Irglova, and the result aches and swoons amid some of the year's loveliest arrangements. A longtime master of sad-bastard music at its most sublimely melodramatic, Hansard actually finds words of hard-won hope and comfort on "Falling Slowly": "You have suffered enough and warred with yourself / It's time that you won."

Those lines sum up much of The Swell Season's immense appeal: Though not exactly stingy with the romantic carnage, the disc feels as warm and content as anything Hansard has recorded in a mostly brilliant career spanning two decades. "Take this sinking boat and point it home," he and Irglova sing, adding, "We've still got time." Their words and voices, expertly placed amid a breathtaking array of strings, pianos and acoustic guitars, are soothing enough to warm the blood through a long winter.

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