The opening track on 2019's This Wild Willing, "I'll Be You, Be Me," begins with a fuzzy rhythm track and a bass patiently thumping over a clanky rhythm machine as Glen Hansard delivers his lyrics in an ominous murmur. Four minutes later it snowballs into a massive tower of cacophony with guitars, keyboards, and strings united in a howling frenzy of sonic force. It's a powerful way to start an album, and while it's easily the set's boldest departure from the introspective but passionate indie folk that has been Hansard's trademark, it sets the stage for a set that finds Hansard pushing his stylistic boundaries. This Wild Willing was primarily written during a four-week working holiday in Paris, and Hansard received input and inspiration from a wide variety of fellow artists, running the gamut from Irish traditional folk instrumentalists to experimental electronic musicians. Hansard merged his subdued but passionate melodies and lyrics with the many musical favors of his collaborators and has given us an album that pushes him forward as a recording artist. The craggy murmur of Hansard's voice turns out to be more versatile than one might imagine, given how well it responds to the forbidding squall of "I'll Be You, Be Me," the slinky sax-accented grooves of "Race to the Bottom," and the stark dynamics of "Fool's Game." Much of the rest of This Wild Willing seems to more readily fit Hansard's typical working method, but there is a rich and spacious sound that producer David Odlum brings to the recordings that, like the flavorful arrangements, doesn't simply give Hansard's compositions a suitable backdrop, but expands them into something deeper and more compelling. Glen Hansard has long been a gifted and effective vocalist and songwriter, but on This Wild Willing, he reveals a greater vision and intelligence in using the studio to give his music life, and it's an unusually strong offering from him.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming