Thursday, 4 June 2009

Sea Sew



A review of Irish songstress Lisa Hannigan's debut album via Suit Yourself magazine.


Even if her name doesn’t sound familiar, only those hiding under a rock the size of Dublin will have missed the distinctive voice of Irish songstress Lisa Hannigan. Her velvety vocals weaved their way through Damien Rice’s hugely successful 2002 album, O, and the more recent 9 like a sultry ghost, winning both musicians much critical acclaim. After a rather hasty departure from Rice’s side – to her surprise, Rice announced that he no longer required her services whilst they were on tour in Munich – Hannigan, with several years’ worth of songs in her head and notebook, returned home to start work on her debut.

The eagerly awaited result, Sea Sew, not only exudes Hannigan’s familiar, fragile and beautiful wheeze but also showcases her talent for orchestral arrangement. Horns, strings and classical piano tussle with folky guitars, whilst Hannigan undulates between fragile child and jazz vixen. It’s a playful album – echoed by the kitsch needlepoint artwork knitted and embroidered by the singer and her ma – that shows that being taken seriously as an artist doesn’t mean taking yourself too seriously.

Aquatic opener Ocean And A Rock begins the album-long sea metaphors and showcases a breathy and guttural richness that cradles the listener back and forth in the wave-like rhythms of Hannigan’s phrasing. Sea Song has a similarly strong sense of movement this time employing salsa rhythms and entangling violin wails to provide something sexier than some of the more Radio 2 suited tracks. The haunting Keep It All is where the record becomes really interesting, with heady twangs of bass strings and a dark Portishead-like vibe. Tender and commercially successful Lille provides a spectacular finale, complete with plonky xylophone, pizzicato violin and some elfin intonation that would make Joanna Newsome proud – in fact Hannigan enunciates the word ‘arguably’ in eiree similarity to the pixie-child herself.

Although the album shares a lot of similarities with Rice’s work – slow building crescendos, minimal production and heart-wrenchingly raw vocals – Sea Sew clearly shows Hannigan heading in a different direction to her previous collaborations. Hannigan isn’t always the most profound lyricist, teetering at times towards the twee: “cup of coffee, splashy splashy,” but then if Kate Bush can write an emotional voyage inspired by a washing machine, perhaps the kook can be forgiven. It’s a strong and confident debut from a justifiably assured artist, whose previous experience will no doubt yield stunning live dates.

Catch Lisa Hanningan at live on Tuesday 14th July 2009 @ The Fleece, Bristol

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