Lisa Hannigan - Passenger
Despite her debut album Sea Sew courting acclaim and inclusion on the 2009 Mercury shortlist, Lisa Hannigan is still content being the 'passenger'. The title of her sophomore release indicates perhaps the considered, window-gazing nature of Hannigan's work to date and inadvertently acknowledges the fact that, while she rarely deviates from captivating on her own terms with that gift of a voice, she is still perhaps best known for her contributions to ex-lover Damien Rice's more commercially successful long-players. However, while Passenger doesn't confront us with anything radically different to what has come before, the mood remains contemplative while ably demonstrating Hannigan's growth - and gear-shift control - as a singer/songwriter.
From the warming, expansive introduction of 'Home' through to the delicate but reassuring promise of 'Nowhere To Go', Passenger is full of moments that circle beauty, shyly courting it with the quiet power of Hannigan's siren call. Her voice really is something special, somewhere between earthy husk and ethereal swell; although it's all her own, there are shades of Joanna Newsom this time round, although those people put off by Newsom's more idiosyncratic style will be glad to hear Hannigan possesses less vocal tics and her songs don't go down the 'ten-minute odyssey' route. In fact (while I count Have One On Me as perhaps the best album of its kind in ten years), one of many appealing things about Passenger is its brevity: ten songs done well, nothing more and nothing less.
Fans of Hannigan will no doubt wrap the album up in a big hug, hoping for it to do the same to them when they're having an especially blue day. Newcomers may want to first swim in the album's most gorgeous ballad 'Paper House' or enjoy the hushed humour of 'Safe Travels (Don't Die)', an ode to mortality with killer lines ("I would be sorry if, due to a hurry, you were hit by a lorry my friend") that also highlights the solid musicianship of Hannigan's backing players despite her voice threatening to steal all the limelight. When Ray Lamontagne makes a welcome appearance on 'O Sleep', Hannigan shares vocals but continues to command the listener's attention as she did on '9 Crimes'. In this sense, she is firmly in the driving seat throughout Passenger. One suspects, as good as this album is, the magic of these songs and their vessel can only truly be captured in a live setting; however, the recorded version may be the perfect soundtrack if feeling especially pensive while sat in a window seat on the bus/train/plane home. Gaze away.