I’ve seen Damien Rice perform twice. The first time was in a now defunct Seattle dive that barely held a hundred people in the main room. Rice, without the presence of his muse and backup singer, Lisa Hannigan, was ebullient and charming, opting to play a few encores of crazy covers and sing-along jams. The second time was a few mere months later, this time with Hannigan in tow, and Rice was subdued, morose and seemingly annoyed. In other words, he was a different person altogether, and the only x-factor seemed to be Hannigan. I felt bad for both of them. One could read between the lines that things didn’t seem to be going well for the two of them. No one has seemed to confirm that the two were a couple, but she seemed uncomfortable and he seemed hurt and acted like a prick. They didn’t part ways immediately, but it wasn’t too unpredictable that Rice would eventually boot Hannigan out of his band.
For Hannigan, it was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to her. My mother always says that bad things happen for a reason, and when one door closes another better one opens. Well, in some instances I’m waiting for quite a few better doors and I’m getting impatient. Lisa Hannigan opened up the most obvious door opened to her, that one being the door that led to a solo debut. Sea Sew was released last September in her native Ireland, leading to a recent `Choice Music Prize’ nomination. The states finally gets its own release of the album this week, and Rice fans, who will mostly make up Hannigan’s own fanbase, will get to see and hear for themselves whether she can successfully step out of her former boss’ considerable shadow.
In this critic’s opinion, she definitely can and indeed has already. With a voice as gorgeous and wispy as the girl herself, Lisa confirms that, just as with her version of “Silent Night,” she can dominate a song just as well as anyone. The songs on Sea Sew, however, shouldn’t be thought of as a `type.’ There are the Van Morrison style folk meets soul tracks such as the opener, “Ocean and a Rock,” but there also more pop-friendly, almost like an early 10,000 Maniacs tune or a Cat Stevens number, such as the infectious “I Don’t Know.” The latter could easily end up to be one of my favorite songs of the year. Heck, Hannigan even spanks Rice at his own melancholy game with the dramatic “Teeth,” a song that more than resembles Rice’s own works, and could be their equal. But most listeners will likely be entranced by the Nick Drake-esque single, “Lille,” filled with heart rending poetic lyrics, sublime vocals, and the gentle sound of the harmonium gently lifting our spirits.
During the preceding years in which I’ve been a Damien Rice fan, I’ve always wondered when Lisa Hannigan would release her own material. Of course, I never expected her to be kicked out of his band so bluntly and unceremoniously, but I suppose neither did she. What she’s done, though, is pick herself up, dust herself off, and record an album that serves both as a worthy stand-alone debut, yet also a musical slap in the face to her former mentor. Cheers, darlin’.
Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová- The Swell Season
Van Morrison- Astral Weeks
Cat Power- Moon Pix