Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
Lisa Hannigan is not an old woman at all. The woman sharing this coffeehouse table with me right now is and right now, they have a lot more in common than they'd ever be able or willing to admit. Though, as luck would have it, they'd get to chattering about recipes or children or those common female grounds and they'd become the fastest of kindred spirits. They'd leave each other needing hugs and the old woman, who still will go on having no name whatsoever, would hold onto her hands and give them a good, grandmotherly squeeze with her thumb pushing on the triangle of muscle and skin between Hannigan's forefinger and thumb. The old woman could be plumbed for variations of some of the same things that Hannigan poses to herself and her music these days - the focuses that never subside in a person. Here she sits, a woman whose prettiest days are well behind her. She's taken on the kind of normal weight gain that every aging person is doomed to add to their carriage. With her hairdo, she's been trying things, trying to keep that old color of hers alive and looking natural enough. She still takes her time in the bathroom every morning before she goes out, to get her face on, to present herself in the best possible way. Her thick fingers are bare - no longer a ring on her ring finger and that could mean anything. It could mean a loss of some time ago and the idea of still wearing that ring would be too painful to keep doing. She sits with a small cup of coffee at her side and a small book of children's stories and rhymes for boys that she had just purchased, probably for a grandchild that she dotes on. She looks around emptily and just thinks in silence. The songs that Hannigan writes - of sophisticated longing and precise endlessness as if everything that could be connected is connected, but there still remains a secret handshake or a secret embrace to gain all of the access - are not meant for this old woman, but they come from the same places. They could be classified as lives already lived, as piles of memories shaken out and propped back up, straightened to view the scabs and the bruises and the smile lines that were accumulated or have started growing. The songs that Hannigan, the Irish lass with the comely voice of softened tones and subtlety, pens are for those who pain themselves to find happiness, but who don't pain themselves to force it. It's painful to be without, but there's no settling for whatever comes along that could fill that void, like bubblegum in a dike's hole. The search is on, the willingness to give a stranger a chance at love in "I Don't Know" and all of the many things that we eventually learn about another once we've been in a relationship with them for a long enough time are just empty spots, blanks that equate to just leaping off a moving truck and trying to land without tipping and skidding across the asphalt. Hannigan is a cool writer who never tries overly hard to be pretty or exact. The beautiful prose comes so easily to her that it feels as if it carries with it an old soul or two - that of an old woman who's buried a husband, maybe two husbands and is still happily spanning a coffeehouse looking for someone to share her favorite books and her dwindling evenings with. Hannigan sings about times when her salt was her own and it sounds as if a fond remembrance to times when being lonely and looking might have even been better than together and looking, as if the salt from sweat was a shared scent and taste and it wasn't altogether a mutual consideration. Sea Sew is an album that deals with abject loneliness and abject love in a similar way, without ever finding for either. She sings about the difficulty in finding her way around "the bends in your brain and your elaborate pain" and it sounds as if she's in for a labyrinth, one beautiful conundrum.