October 16, 2009


A Second Act for the Stars of 'Once': A romance between the musical's stars fades, but their performing relationship flowers (JOHN JURGENSEN, 10/16/09, WSJ)

Fans "seem to hold on to the view that we're still meant to be," the Czech-born Ms. Irglova says, adding, "It never seems to get in the way of how they perceive the music."

After the relationship ended, the couple became "closer friends. So it's important to think of it as steps up instead of steps down," Mr. Hansard says. A Swell Season tour, starting Nov. 1 in Milwaukee, will help the singers gauge how fans are reacting to the changed relationship.

As for "Strict Joy," the opening track "Low Rising," is laid-back soul in the style of Van Morrison, featuring smoldering horns and Mr. Hansard's emotional plea: "We've got to come up because there's no further for us to fall." Much of the album's mood is melancholy, and sentiments of loss and cautious hope pervade the lyrics. But the musicians say most songs weren't born of their breakup.

One track, "The Verb," a tumbling folk song about a union on the verge of collapse, is about eight years old. The song dates to around the time Mr. Hansard and Ms. Irglova first met in the Czech Republic, when she was 13 years old and her father, a fan of Mr. Hansard's music, invited the singer home. "The Rain" sends a apologetic message to the Frames, Mr. Hansard's longtime rock band that was eclipsed by the success of "Once." (The Frames serve as the Swell Season's backing band.)

Exclusive First Listen: The Swell Season: Hear The Duo's New Album, 'Strict Joy,' In Its Entirety (Stephen Thompson, 10/13/09, NPR)

As lead singer of The Frames, Glen Hansard has spent more than 15 years establishing himself as the Bard of big-hearted but emotionally delayed men. In the process, he and his band have become huge stars in their native Ireland, but hopscotched from failed label deal to failed label deal in the U.S.

Then came 2007's low-budget indie musical Once, in which Hansard and young Czech singer Marketa Irglova starred as struggling musicians who strike up a tentative relationship in Dublin. The pair became a couple in real life, and as the film took off, they toured the world to support Once and its best-selling soundtrack. In early 2008, they even won an Academy Award for the movie's beautiful signature song, "Falling Slowly."

Hansard and Irglova have split up amicably, but they maintain a fruitful professional relationship. Recording as The Swell Season, they've recorded a lush, lovely, heartfelt gem in the new Strict Joy, on which they examine a tumultuous relationship over a mostly calm bed of acoustic guitars, pianos and strings. You can hear Strict Joy in its entirety on this page for the two weeks leading up to its Oct. 27 release.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 16, 2009 1:46 PM
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