Current Obsession: Lisa Hannigan

No one has ever accused me of being cutting edge. I’m generally the last to a trend, unless said trend has been a constant in my life for unrelated reasons–making me an accidental hipster. If you read this blog on the regular, you already know this as my Current Obsessions are generally not very current in a larger context, merely within my own life. With this in mind…Lisa Hannigan’s 2011 album Passenger has been on constant rotation this week.

After acting as the accompanying voice to Damien Rice for seven years, she released her first full-fledged album, Sea Sew, in 2008.  While on the road in support of this effort, she wrote new songs that would become Passenger–infusing each tune with “the feeling of transience and nostalgia that this constant traveling” is prone to conjure. Produced by Joe Henry (whose credits include Elvis Costello and Loudon Wainwright III, among others), this Irish lass recorded Passenger in one week. Describing the quick turnaround process as “natural,” Hannigan told NPR that the album, thusly, felt like they “were playing to one person.”

This may be why the listening experience feels so intimate without sacrificing the type of grandiose imagery with which the Irish-born seem stricken. It’s almost as if the lush green landscape of their home turf is absorbed and returned to the land sonically. Irish writers possess the same gift, but return words to the land instead. The first track of Passenger, “Home”, illustrates this point well with its chiming, driving instrumental cacophony that forces you to dive into the album with two feet as she calls out “Home. So far from Home, so far to go and we’ve only just begun.” This is how we know as listeners that we’re to prepare for a journey.

Then come “Knots” and “What’ll I Do,” which are impossible to ignore as they endear you to Hannigan, in her high heels and old dress. This music is fun, she’s fun, and “What’ll I Do” will be stuck in your head for days. And just when you think she’ll be the next Pop Princess to be blasted at us, there comes “O Sleep,” a sublimely melancholy ode to strenuous nights which features Ray Lamontagne, and “Safe Travels (Don’t Die),” a stripped-down confessional of cautions born from love–a reminder of the cost that’s charged us when we’ve something to lose. Which is the point, right? We all have something to lose if we love, and long for it if we don’t. That’s what makes our wheels spin with traction and worlds turn with purpose. Realizing this we’re given “Nowhere To Go” a sweet reminder we’re not alone–a thought made more potent by the unassuming inflections of Hannigan’s ethereal voice.

For an album conceived on the road, it’s message grounds we listeners within our own lives as introspective beings. It allows us to review our own road in eleven easy songs, just one shy of a twelve-step program. Perhaps this is why I took to it so quickly: I’m just a kook looking for a guide. That would make sense since this girl is just a passenger taking notes.

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