Lisa Hannigan’s debut offering, 2008’s Sea Sew, proved an outright success – the Meath songstress making the transition from backing singer to main attraction with apparent ease, and the album itself garnering widespread praise, as well as earning nominations for both the Choice Music Prize and the Mercury Music Prize. However, great and all as Sea Sew was, it did leave a mark of expectation – did the album really portray the best that Lisa Hannigan could be?
As it turns out, it didn’t. Because three years on, Hannigan has returned with much anticipated follow-up Passenger – an album which not only sees her scale the true heights of her potential with a renewed confidence, but also establishes her as one of the most interesting artists in contemporary Irish music. Recorded in Wales in the space of only seven days, Hannigan embraced the ‘live’ approach – laying down tracks with her band collectively in studio as opposed to indulging in individual instrument recordings. The barrage of strings and horns which permeate much of the album add greatly, complimenting perfectly the core folk ethos of Hannigan’s sound. That ever-distinctive voice is on top form throughout, too.
‘Home’ makes for an emphatic album opener, a piano-driven piece which flows beautifully through a series of intriguing key shifts. Lead single ‘Knots’ commands attention, Hannigan’s ukulele leading the charge towards a thrilling instrumental breakdown mid-song. Ray Lamontagne lends his talents to the formidable ‘O Sleep’ – a fine musical match between the two, their voices weaving together in perfect harmony making it one of the standout tracks of the album. Matters of the heart are embraced with an admirable honesty – poignantly sentimental and reflective, most notably on ‘Paper House’, the gradual build of which is enthralling; and ‘Little Bird’, a mournful confessional lament of an ill-fated relationship. ‘A Sail’, too, tugs at the heartstrings, an understated highlight which captivates more with every listen. But Hannigan’s astute approach to songwriting is as much to be admired for its diversity as its depth – the use of the American states to map a relationship in title-track ‘Passenger’ is brilliantly quirky, whilst the advice-laden lyrics of ‘Safe Travels (Don’t Die)’ are impossibly endearing and at times downright funny.
It may not deviate drastically from the roots laid down by Sea Sew – but Passenger is bigger and braver than its predecessor, and an advance of Hannigan’s talents in every way – a triumph, which shows her now firmly removed from the shadow of Damien Rice, and basking in a dazzling spotlight all of her own.