The name might not be familiar but the voice certainly will be to anyone with a copy of Damien Rice's O. Lisa Hannigan was a longtime collaborator with Rice and in lending her vocals to that album arguably stole the show.
Tonight in the Union Chapel, where it’s intimate enough to see the whites of the eyes, she’s showcasing songs from debut solo album Sea Sew, a personal, unashamedly romantic set of acoustic folk songs.
She opens with a short cover of MJ’s ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’, which though unexpected - the band taking the stage one by one, beginning a rhythm on drums and percussion that sounds primal and earthy - yet feels unforced and somehow fits as an introduction to her deliciously hazy voice.
The band of acoustic guitar, upright bass and drums are augmented by a violinist and a multi-instrumentalist who hops between trumpet, xylophone and piano. Hannigan variously plays guitar, banjo and harmonium, the latter giving a rousing warmth and depth to songs like the twists and turns of ‘Venn Diagram’. Most prominently it features in the pretty, Regina Spektor-ish lullaby ‘I Don’t Know’, which receives the biggest cheer of the night. She also uses her voice like an additional instrument, trilling and cooing whispered melodies around off-kilter sea shanties and plucked folk follies.
With a strong basis in traditional Irish music, there’s a timelessness to these songs, and yet what strikes most is how contemporary they also feel. ‘Ocean and a Rock’ is keening and insistent as she sings to a love faraway, while ‘Teeth’ starts with a simple piano refrain and ends in a stormy swirl of violin. There’s also a still, serene take on Dylan’s ‘Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues’.
Ending on ‘Lille’, with Hannigan on guitar and the rest of the band hunched over xylophone, piano and percussion, it’s a beautiful, fragile farewell.