Lisa Hannigan’s Beautiful Simplicity

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Can we recall & experience beauty and pain in the same moments?

My wife and I once spent a week in Ireland.  After days full of hiking and exploring we’d spend our evenings in warm neighborhood pubs sipping from pint glasses, making small talk and waiting for the music to begin.  At some point during the evening a few men and women would set down their glasses, pick up instruments, and begin playing.  The musicians and singers were ordinary seeming people whose beautiful and sad songs helped us understand more about the country we were visiting.  Having spent a few weeks listening to Lisa Hannigan’s new album, Sea Sew, I have to imagine that she grew up listening to this same music, perhaps playing her first songs at the local pub.

Lisa Hannigan got her musical start (she also acts and founded a theater company) singing with fellow countryman Damien Rice.  She began her solo career in 2007 and released Sea Sew in Ireland the following year.  The musical simplicity of the album matches well the tales of love and heartbreak found in these songs.  The last track, “Lille”, begins tragically while evoking a memory of distant beauty.

He went to sea for the day
He wanted to know
What to say
When he’s asked what he’d done
In the past to someone
That he loves endlessly
Now she’s gone
So is he

This may be the perfect time for an Irish singer like Hannigan to make her American debut.  We need music that doesn’t overlook the painful moments of these days.  And for many these are are painful days.  Yet we also need reminders of the beauty that exists and thrives all around.  Like the rest of this album, “Lille” is a gentle nudge in this direction.  It’s not that the difficult and beautiful are distinct; sometimes they coexist is ways that can surprise us.  Sea Sew is a timely illustration that the beautiful is often made more so by the trouble that surrounds it.  If you need such a reminder and aren’t planning a trip to Ireland any time soon, this album is a great place to start.