DAMIEN RICE DID US A FAVOUR when he announced last year that his professional relationship with Lisa Hannigan had "run its creative course." Having spent seven years singing with Rice (and others, including The Frames, Mic Christopher and Gary Lightbody), it was time for the talented Ms Hannigan to do her own thing.
This ten-track debut is quite wondrous. Melodic, mysterious and musically adventurous, it manages to be both hauntingly beautiful and playfully scatty at the same time. A feat only achieved by the very best, Regina Spektor and Stina Nordenstam among them.
Many of the songs, Pistachio for example, are the musical equivalent of Russian matryoshka dolls. You open one and another is revealed. It is a folk song. But it's also a classical piece. And an avant-garde jazz composition.
The album is performed with minimal fuss. Lisa, playing guitar and harmonium, is joined by slap bass, drums, cello, violin, piano and trumpet. Nothing is out of place. As on I Don't Know, arrangements are sophisticated but cleverly disguised as pop chart hits.
Rice's influence (or is it Glen Hansard's?) can perhaps be discerned in the elegiac Splishy Splashy, a quiet acoustic hymn to the late Mic Christopher.
Hannigan's gift as an interpretative artist radiates through her anguished version of Courting Blues, the Bert Jansch song possibly best known through Nick Drake's version. The song is one of the album's stand-out moments.
New folk? Anti-folk? Avant folk? I'm sure the pundits will wrestle a slick label to slap on Hannigan's pot-pourri. But there's nothing whimsical about this. It's a mature work, seriously considered and expertly delivered.
No doubt it will be well received when Lisa takes it on the road in the US with Jason Mraz next month. Luckily, before that we'll get a chance to hear her perform in Dublin and at venues in Ireland.
Having ridden shotgun for so long, much was at stake when Hannigan set about recording her own album.
But she gets it just right.
Lisa Hannigan plays Tower Records Dublin on Saturday and the Button Factory on Thursday, September 18th