If the name Lisa Hannigan rings a bell with you, it’s probably because you know her from the work (and rumored offstage relationship) she did with Damien Rice.
Rice’s star launched into the stratosphere in large part because of the dramatic interplay that the duo brought to the tortured love songs on classic albums like “O” and “9.”
On Hannigan’s debut disc, “See Sew,” she emerges out of Rice’s shadows with a collection of tunes that gives Rice’s songbook a run for its money.
“I feel you in the pocket of my overcoat/my fingers wrap around your words and take the shape of games we play/I feel your words through my button holes and pin them to my fingerless gloves/I keep you in the pockets of my dresses and the bristles of my brushes,” she coos over a delicate acoustic jazz arrangement on “An Ocean and a Rock.”
Her voice is husky and sensual, like a swinging 60s Marianne Faithful before she got her hands on heroin. Her restrained delivery is as intimate as a lover’s whisper, making “See Sew” a perfect disc to play while winding things down after a hectic day as the two of you make your way to the bedroom.
It is very tempting to parse the words in this exquisite poetry for any hint of what might have happened between herself and Rice, especially lines like “there’s one man so bright he blocks the light and he’ll always be so/he’s like no sleep on the weekends on “Sea Song.”
But to do so would distract you from the gorgeous couplings, and you would do these songs a huge disservice in the process. Her songs are mercifully free of any bile caused by a breakup of a romance that might never have existed in the first place.
She has a hawk’s eye for detail in describing simple things like waking up next to a lover, and it is a marvel to hear those words blanket these exquisite folk arrangements. “Sleeping as we do on opposite sides of the venn diagram/leave the time on shadows on your wall/the shards of light through the slats of your window,” she purrs on “Venn Diagram,” as a fiddle lulls the listener into a gentle early morning drowsiness.
Though there is always an acoustic guitar anchoring these songs, Hannigan mixes it up in the mix by adding slippery fretless bass lines, scratches from her fiddle and mournful horns.
Yes, some of these folk musings are dry-as-granola in some spots, especially on the lullaby “Lilale.” But like Rice, Hannigan stretches the confines of the folk song to create a sound uniquely her own.
In a crowd of Dublin folkies dominated by men like Glen Hansard, Damien Dempsey and Paddy Casey, Hannigan proves that a woman’s touch to the heart strings prove to be most compelling of all.
Hannigan will play the Gramercy Theater in New York on June 19. For more information, log onto www.lisahannigan.ie.