Album Review: Lisa Hannigan – Passenger

By on Wednesday, 5th October 2011 at 12:00 pm

The sophomore offering ‘Passenger’ from Irish chanteuse Lisa Hannigan ensures that she is not a girl with just one album in her. With the heartfelt lyrics and plinky plonk rock fans have come to appreciate, ‘Passenger’ shows us a woman who has grown stronger and more sure of herself.

She ably tackles both the abstract in ‘O Sleep’, a sweet duet with Ray LaMontagne, and the concrete with the voice of a slightly sexy angel. Several of her songs have already met with great approval since she has been playing some of them at gigs for a while now. Tracks such as ‘Little Bird’, ‘A Sail’ and ‘Knots’ (single review here) have appeared on the set list for nearly a year. Fans will be rewarded when hearing the studio versions, since Hannigan places so much emphasis on a quick recording process. She strove to make sure she and the band were “capturing a moment” when they spent just one week at the Welsh studio Bryn Derwyn. Tucked in the Snowdonia Mountains in the dead of winter, she pulled the same kind of slightly raw performance from herself and the band that she expects when they play live.

While the album’s opening track ‘Home’ sounds rather generic, the rest of the songs exhibit her familiar sound. Replete with unusual instruments by today’s pop rock standards, Hannigan brings a tinge of Irish trad to her music, best heard in the jaunty ‘What’ll I Do’ and plaintive ‘Safe Travels (Don’t Die)’. I particularly like the first single ‘Knots’ and ‘What’ll I Do’. Both are bright happy sounding songs that belie their darker origins, a bad night out and a broken heart. I find myself singing along to the ‘oh o eh, ah a eh’ parts blithely ignoring the message that the singer is completely lost without her loved one. That is part of the magic of Hannigan’s lyrics, taking the tragic and brightening it.

Of her own favourite, ‘Little Bird’, Hannigan admits, “initially I found [it] quite difficult to play in front of people”. But now she thinks it’s “the one I’m proudest of because…I think it’s true to me.” That’s something that comes through in her recording, this album is honest and true, with tales of the more uncomfortable moments in a life told boldly and without regret. Her first album that was nominated for a Mercury Prize in 2009 may have been made with the wondering notion that no one would ever hear it, but this one clearly has something to say. It makes us sit up and listen.

Hannigan began her tour in the United States at the end of September but will return home for dates there soon. So just as she implores “safe travels, don’t die”, we all wish her the same as she crisscrosses the globe in her own travels.


‘Passenger’ will be released in Ireland in the UK on the 10th of October (next Monday).

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