Lisa Hannigan is best known for her work with Damien Rice, and indeed it was her breathy vocals that elevated songs like “Delicate” and “9 Songs” above normal singer-songwriter fare. But with this, her first album as a solo artist, Hannigan puts her time with Rice firmly behind her. This is an accomplished, affecting album, better than anything Rice ever recorded and wholly without the blandness that characterized his work from the first.
Though Sea Sew is a folk album, the music here is thrillingly lush. Hannigan’s backup band is talented and varied, with trumpets, cellos, violins, glockenspiels, and others making appearances. Listening to the album I found myself fixing in on certain small flourishes—the triumphant, faraway trumpet in the intro to “I Don’t Know”; the military-style snare in “Ocean and A Rock”; the sinewy, uneasy interplay between bass, violin, and Hannigan herself in “Keep It All”. Sure, there are a couple clunkers—“Splishy Splashy” can’t quite overcome the silliness inherent in its lyrics, and the dramatic build in “Teeth” comes too late to save the song from it’s lugubrious first two-minutes. But the sublime beauty of “Sea Song” always makes me forget such quibbles.