Hannigan’s ‘Passenger’ is a thrilling ride

On my third or fourth listen of Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan’s sophomore album, Passenger, which dropped Tuesday, a simple thought kept recurring: “When are people going to stand up and notice?”

For Hannigan (perhaps best known as Damien Rice’s former backing vocalist) is certainly talented; but her unique brand of folk-rock is oddly unclassifiable. There are no flashy pyrotechnics in her live act (unless you want to count her practically thrashing a string dulcimer to death when she covers Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”); just the simple sounds of guitar, bass and drums — occasionally augmented with a mandolin, banjo and other acoustic instruments.

Passenger however, does represent a sonic and lyrical leap forward. Where her first album, Sea Sew (2009), suggested the warmth of home and romance through its inviting lyrics and use of harmonium and brass, Passenger is the natural flipside. Hannigan’s lilting voice suggests something a great deal more somber (the harmonium is replaced here by violin and cello, and often electric backing), or at least, wistful nostalgia.

That isn’t to say it’s all terribly serious. “Knots” is a terrifically fun “What Happened Last Night?” odyssey, and my personal favorite, “What’ll I Do”, takes her wonderful powers of observation and turns them into a song of crisis over a lover’s absence. I can only hope that this album (which features a duet with the great Ray LaMontagne) will put her over the top.

 Passenger is out now. Lisa Hannigan will be performing next Tuesday September 27th at The El Rey Theatre.

Personal Jesus” (Live): Here

What’ll I Do”: Here