ARTS

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February 10, 2009

Shortcut: Lisa Hannigan—See Sew

After years of singing backup for big-name artists like Damien Rice, Herbie Hancock, and Snow Patrol, Ireland’s Lisa Hannigan has decided to start her solo career. Her debut, though not perfect, certainly shows she is a promising performer.

Sea Sew is a mellow album that showcases Hannigan’s whimsical, folksy, conversational style of singing along with very beautiful instrumental flourishes. The album introduces Hannigan as an artist with her own distinctive style. She maintains an admirable amount of vocal consistency throughout, sustaining the same breathy, pretty tone that is reminiscent of Norah Jones without being annoyingly derivative.

However, Hannigan’s consistency is not always a virtue. Although the timbre of her voice is very fine and her vocal delivery can be delightfully quirky, there are moments when you want her to stretch herself more, when you want her to belt rather than croon, and, most of all, when you want her be more emotional. If this album has one flaw, it is that it is a little too calm and perhaps a little too safe.

Hannigan’s reluctance to take artistic risks is even more lamentable because her few attempts to stretch the bounds of her music pan out very well. Scattered moments of brilliance on Sea Sew show that Hannigan is capable of producing very high quality music when she ventures out of her niche. On “Keep It All,” for example, Hannigan’s pure delivery contrasts sharply with the sexy edginess of the instrumental background. The song shows all the good things that can happen when a talented singer goes out of her comfort zone and tries to do something unique.

In “Pistachio,” Hannigan is in her element; here, she sings higher than usual, and her voice is so beautiful in this range that I wonder why she does not typically sing so high. The pure, ethereal quality of “Pistachio” is something that all sopranos should emulate. Although her tendency to a lullaby-like singing style gets slightly old at a certain point, it is brilliantly fitting in “Lille,” which features some gorgeous high notes and spectacular instrumental solos. The highlights of the album are “I Don’t Know” and “Ocean and a Rock,” their hummable choruses making them catchier and more memorable than most of the other songs.

Sea Sew offers a glimpse of a talented up-and-coming artist. Part of its appeal, to certain extent, is its rawness; you can see that there is room for growth and development. There is a spark of real musical talent here, and it could produce very fine things in the future if it is nurtured.

—Ilana Kowarski