Lisa Hannigan’s new album, 'Passenger,' is building steam among influential radio stations (what’s left of them), and for good reason. 'Passenger' is full of gorgeous, precious alt-folk gems set in atmospheric sonic arrangements that reveal something on each listen.
Hannigan’s voice was first heard as the longing foil to Damien Rice’s earnest vocals on some of his classic albums. With 'Sea Saw,' the Mercury Prize-nominated and double platinum-selling album, Hannigan found her on voice as a solo artist.
Like great jazz singers, Hannigan’s aching phrasing becomes yet another instrument on the mix provided by John Smith on guitar/backing vocals, Ross Turner on drums, Gavin Glass on piano and guitar, Donagh Molloy on harmonium and trumpet and Shane Fitzsimmons on double bass.
The hushed composure in her vocal delivery falls in line with the brushed drums that start “Paper House” before raising to match the ache of the fiddle chorus at the end of the song.
On “Little Bird,” Hannigan gets in touch with her inner Norah Jones, adding breathy, sultry tones to lines like “ Your heart sings like a kettle and your words, they boil away like steam/a lie burns long while the truth bites quick/a heart is built for both it seems/you are lonely as a church/despite the queuing out your door/I am empty as a promise, no more.”
Armed with little more than a shuffling beat and a subdued bass line, Hannigan amplifies the power of her aching vocal on “A Sail.”
“It's long gone, that carry on from December/it is no matter, if you remember/mulled paper bagged wine/and too much bedside whiskey/I will roll my heart up in my sleeve,” she coos.
On 'Sea Saw,' there was a tendency to comb the lyrics for any word of the alleged bad breakup between the romantically involved Hannigan and Rice.
The lyrics on 'Passenger' deal more with life on the road, which is good, because Hannigan is a bit sick of addressing the rumors at this point.
“There’s so much misinformation about me there,” says Hannigan during an interview with Peter Gerstenzang that appeared in this month’s American Songwriter.
“Especially, all the stuff about me and Damien. There was all this speculation about us after I left his band. And all these supposed bad feelings and broken hearts.
“It was weird, but we sorted it out ages ago. Anyway, I wanted to change all the stuff about that on my Wiki page. But my page lady said, ‘Oh, it’s a conflict of interest for you to write your own stuff. And besides, the amount you want to change is too much!’ So, I’m stuck with all this stuff that isn’t true.”
“What’ll I Do” is yet another example of Hannigan’s versatility, displaying a grasp on blues with a rapper’s timing.
“What'll I do now that you're gone/my boat won't row, my bus doesn't come/I have the fingers, you've got the thumb/what'll I do without you” she asks, the handclaps and exuberant chorus joining her at the end of the track adding a playful splash to this album’s standout track.
Just when you thought Hannigan had the market cornered on the breathy and sexy vocal delivery thing, she is joined on “O Sleep” by Maine folk crooner Ray LaMontagne, who owns the market (and charts) on this style.
Like most of 'Passenger,' the violin of Lucy Wilkins provides that perfect extra smidgen of ache to the longing vocals.
'Passenger' is a brilliant swirl of the folk, the jazz, and good ol’ fashioned Irish storytelling, giving the listener a most satisfying ride!
Blink and you missed her -- she did a few showcase gigs here in the U.S. last month and is back in Ireland for the rest of the year. Let’s hope we can coax Hannigan to be a passenger on a flight to the U.S. soon!