A Mercury Prize nomination can sometimes be a poisoned chalice. You receive wonderfully positive press coverage, immense demand, and probably a slot on Later With Jools Holland, but in return you owe the press, your new fans and Jools a truly unbelievable follow up album. So it would be fair to say that something pretty top notch is expected from Lisa Hannigan’s sophomore effort, Passenger.
Despite the folk veneer of Hannigan’s songs, her vocal style fits somewhere between Eliza Carthy and Leslie Feist. Her music throughout Passenger sits comfortable amongst more traditional folk styles, though elements from the very base of her music have an almost jazz-like vibe, with brushed drums and double bass permeating gracefully throughout. This combination of styles was also apparent with her debut album Sea Sew, which was frequently up-tempo and warm. With Passenger, however, we are presented with something that is cooler, evoking sentimentality and themes of homesickness, which add a somewhat darker shade to this new music.
Recollection is not the only theme in Passenger. With the track Safe Travels (Don’t Die), Hannigan’s anxiety flows beautifully between the double bass and ukulele combination (which frequently acts as a point of inception for many songs in Passenger). Hannigan and her accomplished band often start the music light, but it builds, typically climactically, to something that is startling and rich. This is especially notable in the title track, which finishes with a wonderful trumpet and violin combination that frequently adorned tracks on the Sea Saw.
Sea Sew set a precedent for Hannigan, which she has managed to exceed without disregarding her original sound. With Passenger, she has written songs and music that sound as if they were cultivated parallel to her initial crop of heart warmers – this new music is the same quality, with the same vibe and the same charm as it ever had. The new album is a testament to Hannigan’s song writing as well as her creativity. Hannigan has not rested on her laurels; instead she has driven her music further and stretched her songs, her lyrics and her musical prowess to something that is both personally innovative and beautiful.