CD Review: Marketa Irglova, Anar

For some it may be hard to imagine Marketa Irglova without her long-time collaborator, Glen Hansard, as one half of the Swell Season . The 23-year-old jumped into the spotlight alongside Hansard in 2008 when the pair won an Academy Award for “Falling Slowly,” an emotionally charged track from the highly acclaimed movie Once.

Anar, the first full-length solo album by Irglova, removes the raspy bellows of Hansard and challenges the young singer-songwriter to shine in her own right. And shine she does.

The 12-track debut boasts a multitude of influences including Otis Redding, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds , and the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack, but there is no mistaking that Irglova has developed a fusion of style all her own.

Here, the classically trained pianist from the Czech Republic draws on her personal experience to produce a contemplative, soul-searching record with ease and elegance. Establishing a musical presence in the Zora Space in Brooklyn, Irglova gained inspiration collaborating with Iranian drummer and vocalist Aida Shahghasemi, whose influence on the album is best seen through the melodic stripped-down cover of Dokhtar Goochani.

Irglova moved from New York to Chicago to record the album with new husband and sound engineer Tim Iseler at Soma Studios, with the help of Shahghasemi and a host of Chicago-based artists.

The result is a record dominated by the stunning simplicity of the singer’s vocals and piano melodies set into a background of skilled musicians equipped with a cello, drums, trumpet, trombone and, of course, acoustic guitar. It’s near impossible to fault Irglova’s deeply personal and sincere lyrics. In each track, the singer’s ethereal voice cascades over heartfelt and honest accounts of the musician’s own development.

Tracks such as “Crossroads” and “Your Company” are soft and striking, as Irglova leaves nowhere for herself to hide with simple piano accompaniment. In “Go Back,” the singer allows a build up of tension reminiscent of what the Swell Season does best.

Anar draws from the same pace throughout, with no up-tempo songs offering relief from the deeply emotional sounds woven by the singer. But without branching into livelier tracks, Irglova stays true to what she does best. Each track is exquisite.

Inspired by a painting she purchased in New York, Irglova chose Anar — the Persian word for pomegranate — as the name of the debut, with the artwork gracing the album cover. Like the symbolic fruit, the tough exterior has been cracked open in this album revealing the colour of a vibrant bleeding heart.

4 stars out of 5