Glen Hansard brings his voice to Springsteen's 'Drive All Night'
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Glen Hansard, by virtue of his songwriting and his unique voice, has risen beyond the Oscar-worthy fame his music earned in the 2008 film Once and even the other acoustic-strumming folks with similar rootsy leanings. There’s something deeper to his music, and it could be the raspy, gutteral approach of his voice or the words he has that voice sing. But it’s there, and he’s starting to earn the notice of the old-guard establishment that deems few fit to ordain.
Whether or not that matters (it doesn’t), his decision to tackle Bruce Springsteen’s “Drive All Night” is a natural. Both folk singers in their bones with too much inner aggression and turmoil to have ever been comfortable in that world, Hansard takes his style and, without aping Springsteen’s original, is faithful enough to respect the song while also giving it new life.
An acknowledgement of all that is this Drive All Night EP, a benefit for Clarence Clemons’ Little Kids Rock Foundation. It pulls together Hansard’s Springsteen cover on side one and three original tracks on side two, and serves as a quick reminder of Hansard’s subtle power.
There’s a pleasure in hearing Hansard take the downbeat tale and spin it into his own. But there would have to be more than just knowing that he enjoyed himself to make the record worthwhile, and that’s why this project works. The reverence to the music is matched by passion and voice, and the accompaniment by famous friends — Eddie Vedder on backing vocals, Clarence Clemons’ nephew Jake on saxophone — don’t detract from the headliner but simply help him color the recording as he wanted. They don’t hog the spotlight and they’re not overshadowed; they’re just there for the song.
The song is truly one of Springsteen’s best, a minor masterpiece of solemn reflection behind the wheel and under the moonlight, whether it was real or theoretical. The rhythm and blues roots of the song are acknowledged, and just as the man did originally, melodrama is thrown out the window in favor of in-the-moment emotion. He keeps up that vibe, towing the line between worlds of Bob Dylan and Marvin Gaye, on the second side with the quiet “Pennies in the Fountain” and the revivalistic “Renata.” In the span of just three songs, Hansard displays he’s equipped to handle just about anything.
And it all wraps up with “Step Out of the Shadows,” an a capella piece that showcases Hansard’s soul and vocal chops nicely, and further illustrates that, whether he’s playing by someone else’s songbook or his own, his originality and power are apparent. Celebrity backing or Hall of Fame covers aside, the draw is ultimately Hansard himself.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org