Lisa Hannigan will release her much-anticipated second album, ‘Passenger’, on October 10: the follow-up to her Mercury-nominated debut, ‘Sea Sew’. The record will be preceded by Lisa’s thrilling new single, ‘Knots’, on October 3. Following extensive touring across Europe and the US this past year, including an intimate sold-out date at Bush Hall, more UK live dates will be announced shortly.
Lisa Hannigan penned her first album in hope rather than the expectation that the wider world might find a use for it; knocked out at rehearsals in a freezing barn in the Irish countryside, ‘Sea Sew’ was produced at a friend’s studio within a fortnight. Yet this self-released (and hand-sewn) record went platinum, and was nominated for the Choice Music Prize in Ireland and the Mercury Prize in the UK. “Sea Sew was the most honest record I could make at that time,” Lisa says now, “but I look at it today, and there’s a certain sense of wanting to appear happy and confident. I wanted it to seem as though nothing bothered me.”
From the rain-lashed, ivory-poundings of its opening track (‘Home’), ‘Passenger’ proves that there is more to Lisa Hannigan than may have initially met the eye. The signs have been there for some time: last year, her furious reinvention of ‘Black-Eyed Dog’ on a tour celebrating the music of Nick Drake quite rightly stole the show. And it is an excitement that is repaid across this evocative and quietly poetic new album. Lyrically, ‘Passenger’ appears to interweave relationships new and old: ‘Paper House’, for instance, recalls the idyll days of a former love, which cannot be revisited (“Oh you know what you are to me / and you know you will always be”). The sweetly-sung ‘Little Bird’, meanwhile, reveals itself to be a quietly steely defiance of an ex (“when the time comes, and the rights have been read / I think of you often, but for once I meant what I said”).
Lisa Hannigan famously made her name as the beautiful, breathy accompaniment to Damien Rice, with whom she sang and toured for seven years. Yet it is on this second solo album that you sense she’s truly found her own voice. Perhaps the most immediate example of this is the track ‘Knots’: an electrifying blend of Southern stomp, screeching strings and lyrical tales of a debauched, whiskey-soaked night, ‘Knots’ sounds like the kind of song Hannigan would only have the confidence to write now. And it shows across the album: ‘Passenger’ was recorded in little over a week, together with acclaimed producer Joe Henry (Ani DiFranco, Solomon Burke, Loudon Wainwright III). “He’s a proper Southern gent,” says Lisa. “We got the train out to meet him in Pasadena, and as we alighted, Joe crossed the tracks to meet us. He was in one of those proper old American villages that has a hardware store and bakery and a butcher –not like anywhere that exists any more. We shook hands, and that sealed the deal.”
Much of ‘Passenger’ reflects these journeys Lisa has taken these last few years, both personally and professionally. “Many of these songs were written while I was away from home or on the road,” she says, “and the feeling of transience and nostalgia that this constant travelling evoked seemed to seep into every song.” The overarching theme of the record, then, is “those loves, heartbreaks, confusions and friendships that we take with us through life, over years and continents, enduring the passage of time.” This emotional landscape is captured quite literally on the album’s cover, which collates maps of the main places where the record was written (Dublin, Brooklyn, West Cork). As ever, it’s beautifully detailed effort from Hannigan, who perforated the images into paper and shot light through them – creating a stunning map of her music in the process.
She may have taken a somewhat circuitous route to the limelight, but ‘Passenger’ feels like Lisa Hannigan has finally come of age. That said, she still bears the same worry and nerves of someone unsure why people are suddenly so interested in her. “I never used to feel comfortable calling myself a songwriter. I just used to think of myself as a singer. But now, I allow myself that luxury.”