Review: Lisa Hannigan's graceful melodies champion 'At Swim'

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Posted: Aug 18, 2016 12:09 PM
Review: Lisa Hannigan's graceful melodies champion 'At Swim'

Lisa Hannigan, "At Swim" (ATO Records)

Lisa Hannigan fills "At Swim," her third, stirring album with graceful melodies, reflective lyrics and a world of watery references.

Hannigan and producer Aaron Dessner (of The National) use a wealth of harmonies — usually her own multi-tracked vocals — and an arsenal of mostly acoustic accompaniment to build a captivating listen whose restraint adds to its allure.

Harbors, seas, currents and springs, as well as swimming, drowning and deep treasures populate the tunes, all chiseled by the influences of Hannigan's Dublin home, a relationship-related move to London and the recording sessions in an upstate New York studio in a large converted church.

"Prayer for the Dying" is a bit of country in Cowboy Junkies mode; "Anahorish" is an acapella rendition of lyrics from the late Irish Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney with stellar vocal help from Zoe Randell and Katie Fallon; and "Undertow" adds a touch of banjo to a richly rhythmic refrain.

Near the end, the autobiographical "Funeral Suit" paints a budding romance while integrating many of the themes from the rest of the album — resettlement and death, love and hopeful discovery.

No matter the depth of the dive, Hannigan remembers fellow Irishman Bob Geldof's adage and masters the fine art of surfacing.