Passenger, the second album from Lisa Hannigan, was always going to be judged against her first, the Mercury and Choice prize nominated Sea Sew. But to compare it too closely to her debut would be doing the album a disservice, as they are two distinctly different pieces of work - Sea Sew was bathed in a sort of aching fragility, Passenger is confident, assured and self-aware.
Throughout its ten tracks Passenger has a very different feel than that of its predecessor and a lot of this comes from the influence of producer Joe Henry, who approached Hannigan after seeing her perform at a McGarrigle Sisters tribute concert. While the overall sound of Passenger retains the core elements which made her debut so popular - incredibly evocative vocals, slightly left-of-centre musicianship - it extends the sound past the boundaries of Sea Sew and towards a fuller and more expansive pop identity.
The album opens confidently with 'Home', which showcases Hannigan's vocal talents. She's capable of soaring above the mix, bringing it back down to earth with a vulnerable whisper before ending a note seemingly trembling with emotion. The bluesy 'A Sail' and the fast rhythm of 'Knots' prove that Hannigan isn't the cutesy shrinking violet that she is occasionally portrayed as, but very capable of singing strong and true and has an obvious knack for satisfying melodies.
The musicianship and arrangement on the album is fine, too. Gavin Glass' instrumental piano break during 'Knots' is as good as anything on Passenger, or Sea Sew for that matter. 'Little Birds' and 'Passenger' are top notch and, interesting for someone who spent such time being a backing vocalist herself, Ray LaMontagne is enlisted as vocal support for 'O Sleep'.
Passenger is a fine record. Perhaps it mightn't change the minds of those who didn't connect with Sea Sew but for the many who did, they'll find it difficult to resist the allure of this record.