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Rethinking St. Patrick's Day: The music of singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan

Posted 9:45am on Wednesday, Mar. 14, 2012

It's time to retire the weary traditional sounds of St. Patrick's Day: no more Chieftains, no more Flogging Molly, no more U2, no more rousing bagpipe solos.

Instead, sample the wide variety of Irish music that's a bit more current (although new LPs by established artists like Sinead O'Connor still turn critical heads), and no, we're not just talking about playing that Script album on a loop.

One of Ireland's most low-key yet delightfully original exports is singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan, perhaps best known on these shores for having been troubadour Damien Rice's longtime partner in creative crime (that's her floating in the background of Rice standards like The Blower's Daughter). She parted ways with Rice in 2007 to forge a solo career, which has resulted in a series of critically acclaimed, if commercially underwhelming efforts, like last year's sophomore disc, Passenger.

The Dublin native's lilting voice can break your heart -- all you need is a listen to the opening moments of Home, the first track on Passenger, to confirm Hannigan's gift -- and meshes beautifully with collaborators (Ray LaMontagne turns up halfway through Passenger). But, not unlike fellow Irish pop-rock artists like Snow Patrol or the Frames, there's nothing immediately "Irish" about the music.

It's soulful, warm and accessible, yes, but it's free from the telltale trappings of what could be immediately identified as Irish: no uilleann pipes, no wistful lyrics about a lover on the moors.

As the world becomes ever more interconnected, music from around the corner or around the world can sound nearly identical. But, as long as Ireland continues to provide the world with musicians like Hannigan, who's willing to bare her soul and provide a candid collection of songs rooted in the storytelling traditions of the Emerald Isle, the shamrock sound will never truly fade away.

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