It’s been about a decade since we first heard Lisa Hannigan sing back up on Damien Rice’s multi-platinum debut album, O. For six years, she worked beside Rise as a part of his band. It was a collaboration that produced two records; the other being 2006’s release 9 where she sang lead vocals on the track, 9 Crimes. When she left Rice’s band, there was that little part of me that startled to wonder if she would be one of those artists to fade into the background. It wasn’t unjustified. How many times have we seen artists break out on their own only to fall at their feet?
With Sea Sew, Hannigan stunned her audience into enchantment by showcasing the true extent of her musical flair once given the chance to stand in the spotlight instead of behind it. Her solo debut venture earned her Choice Music Prize and Mercury Music Prize nominations. Three years later her sophomore record Passenger hit the selves and left us wondering would she be able to pull off another stunner?
Passenger opens with Home, an ambitious ballad that pulls us back into the subject matter Hannigan started with her debut – the idea of journeys. This is a theme we see throughout the entire record. A Sail is, to me, the record’s underdog. It can be easily over looked as just being another slow number but the more you listen its difficult to say it’s anything other than a gem. The record’s current single Knots sounds like a bit of a departure from the sound we know as Hannigan’s. Her soft voice and ukulele command the track that you’ll be humming long after you’ve stopped listening to it. What’ll I Do is a fidget-inducing number adorned with fiddles and quick vocals where Hannigan verbalises doubt and the insecurity of being alone.
With O Sleep, she teams up with a man who is no stranger to the world of folk, Grammy award winner Ray LaMontagne. Together, they create a melancholic a love song about the distance. Both Paper House and Little Bird are the kind of songs that makes you remember the reason you fell for Hannigan in the first place. The music slows to a sort of easy listening feel that accentuates Hannigan’s sweetly soft vocals.
The title track, Passenger is endowed with mellow ukelele notes and upbeat head bopping vocals. Safe Travels (Don’t Die) is a quirky track which is also the closest glimpse we get to Hannigan’s sense of humour. She light heartedly advices against all things perilous to the fragile human anatomy. The record ends on a high note with one of the records strongest points – the slow paced Nowhere To Go that serves as a prompt to make the listener return with its reassuring harmonies.
A problem sophomore records face is the artists getting a little too comfortable. They found their niche and don’t ever try to expand on it. Hannigan tries to swat away that notion with hers. She set herself a standard with Sea Sew which she went beyond with Passenger without a complete reinvention of herself or her music. Sea Sew was the groundwork, the building blocks, as incredible as it was and Passenger, despite following on in a similar vein, breaks away by becoming a further telling of it. The stories grow deeper and her ingenuity is artistically stronger and more consistent. It’s all set up to hook you in and she did it all without loosing the charm of its predecessor. Passenger is a record without any airs or graces and with more than a dab allure that leaves Sea Sew in the sand.