Lisa Hannigan is probably best known for her association with fellow Irish musician Damien Rice, but her debut solo album Sea Sew has proved that she has what it takes to make it on her own. The album is by no means perfect but Hannigan’s ambition and determination shines through with a number of brilliant songs. Opener Ocean And A Rock, the dark Keep It All and the best song I Don’t Know lead the way with the more aggressive Venn Diagram completing the highlights. The rest of the album drifts along, either light and whimsical or flat and listless, leaving you begging for more brilliance at every turn.
Hannigan has learned much from the seven years working with Rice. The same dark thread runs through her work, lifted by a lighter edge - in many ways like Laura Marling. Vyvienne Long and Tom Osander followed Hannigan in her solo pursuits with the talent not ending there. Cathy Davey provides excellent backing vocals on Sea Sew which proves that gathering together proficient musicians is as important as writing good songs.
2009 has been a great year (so far) for female artists. La Roux, Florence And The Machine, Bat For Lashes and Speech Debelle all feature on the shortlist. Most noticeable in her absence is Little Boots and the lack of Slow Club is a real surprise (Rebecca Taylor is magnificent on Yeah So). Does Lisa Hannigan join this elite group? Against the women who are nominated this year, the answer is a resounding yes. Most would place her higher than Florence and La Roux with only Natasha Khan the real outstanding act of the group. Even against Kasabian and The Horrors, it is a strong presence from the fairer sex.
The inclusion of Hannigan on the Barclaycard Mercury Music Prize 2009 shortlist is a bit of a surprise, but (as obvious as it sounds) not entirely unexpected. The label of ‘token folky’ is horribly patronising, not to mention incorrect. Most of Sea Sew is borderline folk and definitely not in the traditional sense. With the rise of such artists as Kate Rusby, Seth Lakeman and Eliza Carthy pushing the boundaries, Sea Sew is nothing more than a singer/songwriter acoustic album with gorgeous string arrangements and earthy vocals. It is no more ‘folk’ than Regina Spektor or Conor Oberst.
So does Sea Sew stand a chance of scooping the Mercury this year? It is in the top five at least. The smart money is on Glasvegas, Bat For Lashes or Friendly Fires for talent but who knows? It is such a weird shortlist this year that anything could happen. And you never know, in a final twist, the token ‘folky’, with her insatiable charm and mild manner, could steal it…