‘Passenger’, Lisa Hannigan

'Passenger' was written on tour in America, artfully reflected in the cover art.

Released September 2011 on Barp-ATO Records (US)

Lisa Hannigan has been on the folk-rock/acoustic/sing-songwriter scene for some time, playing in Damien Rice’s band for several years, along with several other collaborations. Passenger is her second album, and although different from her debut, Sea Sew, its tender sound is thoroughly enjoyable. Many of the songs on the album were written while Hannigan was touring, hinted at by the album cover, a birds-eye view of city lights at night. However, it does not quite capture the warm, intimate sound that dominates the record.

Hannigan’s Irish background is clear in the influence of folk, with, by modern standards, unexpected chord sequences, long vocal lines, and a wide range of instruments. Although she lacks the quirkiness of similar artists such as Laura Marling, she expresses an interesting range, both technically and musically – the blooming opening of ‘Home’  is shortly followed by the folky ‘Knots’, and the sweet, blues-y harmonies of ‘O Sleep’ (featuring Ray Lamontagne) contrast the wonderfully personal ‘Paper House’, the last of which is a particularly outstanding track.

After frequent listening, however, it was ‘A Sail’ that rose murkily out as this reviewer’s favourite song on the album. It’s brooding intensity swirls around Hannigan’s impressive hushed vocals, and builds into something really quite special, holding a great deal of depth which is not immediately recogniseable.

The one disappointment on the album is the track ‘Safe Travels (Don’t Die)’ – its starts off with low vocals and a plucked guitar, and the music grows with strings and piano into something quite lovely, but the lyrics are just dull and strange, such as “Please don’t bungee jump, or ignore a strange lump”, which, I’m sure, are intended to serve a purpose, but they only undermine the beauty of the music. This is particularly noticeable to a similar lyrical simplicity in the title track, ‘Passenger’, which is pulled off much more convincingly in evoking shy romantic feelings. This might a bit of a nit-pick, though, because overall, the album is beautiful, engaging and well worth listening to.

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