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Lisa Hannigan, woman of many talents

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On her own: Formerly a backup singer for Damien Rice

For seven years, Irish singer Lisa Hannigan remained in the backing-vocalist shadows cast by her platinum-selling employer, folksinger Damien Rice.

In 2008, she finally stepped into the spotlight with her Mercury Prize-nominated debut “Sea Sew,” which revealed her lovably eccentric personality in the CD art alone — an elaborate patchwork quilt of needlepoint dice she made herself.

“That record was about finding my footing,” she says. But with its whimsical new followup, “Passenger,” she adds, “I feel like the feet have been found. It’s a much more cohesive body of work, with big, overarching themes. And it came easier to me to be honest, honest with myself when writing these songs.”

It’s great to hear Hannigan — who plays The City today — establishing her own quirky identity.

Her breezy voice wafts above curious folk-rockers like “Home,” “Little Bird” and “What’ll I Do.” And the ukulele-strummed “Knots” is frank to a fault.

“It’s about being in the grip of the mighty fear,” she says, “when you’ve drunk far too big a variety of drinks, and you can only recreate the night before through the receipts in your pocket and the foreign currency that you find in your shoe.”

The “Passenger” artwork — which resembles a sewer system blueprint — is another homemade Hannigan original.

“They’re maps that I perforated by stabbing them with a compass,” she says of the collage. “The maps are of either the place where I wrote the song, or where the song is about. So the front cover is Scotland, West Cork, and where I live, Dublin City. They’re all mixed together, then photographed over a light box, for the effect of a perforated map with light coming through it.”

Hannigan feeds wild birds, and she refers to her best friend (and tour manager) as Bird, so the Joe Henry-produced “Passenger” is liberally feathered with avian references.

“I’ve got six bird feeders, and loads of swallows and robins at the moment,” she says.  

The singer also has developed a new obsession.

“I’ve started collecting typewriters, and I have an Olivetti Valentine which is my most treasured possession,” she says. “I have eight so far, and there’s something so wonderfully physical about them — you really have to pound those letters in, and it’s a beautiful sound.”

Has Hannigan typed out any song lyrics yet? She chuckles. “No, but I certainly could on my lovely Valentine. My dream is to have a wall with all of my typewriters set up, fully inked with a sheet of paper in them. And maybe with a different song in each one!”


Lisa Hannigan

Where: Slim’s, 333 11th St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. today

Tickets: $16

Contact: (415) 522-0333; www.slimstickets.com

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