(@James Minchin)
How It’s New York: Lisa Hannigan and Joe Henry are performing at Highline Ballroom, one of New York’s sweet downtown venues, on June 14 and 15. The pairing will attract music lovers who know her, and some who don’t.
How It’s Irish: Lisa Hannigan is Irish, and began her career singing with Damien Rice. She’s since performed with the Chieftains, among others.

Lisa Hannigan continues to make grown men sigh. Here’s our interview with Joe Henry, who appears with the lovely songbird at Highline Ballroom June 14 &15.

No big surprise: in the interview we did with Lisa in October, we pointed out how other musicians adore her, and how when we asked on Facebook what to ask her, we heard back “will you marry me?”

An earlier version of this article first appeared in Irish Examiner USA.

And stay tuned for Lisa’s emailed responses, too!

Everybody Falls In Love With Lisa Hannigan Producer and singer/songwriter Joe Henry said “I admire her as much as any human being; I think she’s absolutely fantastic.”

He’s performing two shows with her at Highline Ballroom next week, on Thursday, June 14 and on Friday, June 15, backed up by John Smith and Ross Turner.

Joe produced Lisa’s last album, Passenger (which we wrote in an interview with Lisa here) and she sings on his thirteenth album, Reverie.
Joe has produced many famous artists, including Elvis Costello, Ani DiFranco, Bonnie Raitt, Mose Allison, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, and won multiple Grammy-awards.
His album “Reverie” received widespread acclaim. Yet Joe is not immersed in the Irish music world, and when he first heard Lisa sing, he came to her “pure.” He was blown away:

“I had the good fortune of having heard heer sing with no notion of who she was. To me, that’s a rare thing. If I go to hear somebody, I already know enough to have brought me there, which brings presumptions to the table.”

He was in London two years ago this month for a memorial concert for Kate McGarrigle, and went across the hall after his soundcheck in the Purcell room and heard her perform a single song in the Festival Hall.

Rufus Wainwright introduced Lisa, Joe recalled.

“I had no notion who she was. I was up at 2 that morning, writing a letter to her manager, saying here’s who I am, here’s what I do, if I can ever be of any service, let me know. And that’s how we ended up working together.”

It’s not the first time Joe has written to an artist – he had to coax Mose Allison for over a year.
Mose had sworn off doing studio albums. When Joe hears someone he feels passionate about, he puts himself forward.

As for Lisa, “I was completely taken with my artistry, and raised my hand,” he said.

(@Lauren Dukoff)

Describing himself as “relentlessly song-oriented,” he said Lisa “is a beautiful song-writer” who has grown exponentially since her first album. But what drew him to her was her voice.

“The more that I work, the less distinction I see in the different aspects of my job. I work as a producer, and I’m first and foremost a singer and a songwriter and thus a performer. When I began I saw all those components as separate pursuits, but as I get older and work more, the line of distinction becomes blurred.”

His own songs, he said, are not about himself.

“I don’t look at an event and try to put them into three verses that rhyme, so that other people can share my experience. The process of writing is for me to find out what I’m writing about.”

He compared it to writing a letter to his brother, and discovering what he had to tell him only when he begins writing. Songs come the same way. He just begins, with an image, title or phrase, “like a blind man following a stair rail.” 

Reverie is deliberately apartan in its sound. It was inspired by the impression he had walking around Barcelona jetlagged, walking around in the Picasso museum, looking at early works of the master that were austere and yet

“vivid, lusty and great. I just heard in a moment, like a gong being struck, I just heard this tone and knew that was where I was going to go next. An all-acoustic record, but not quiet and not mannered. I knew that I was going to leave the windows open and put microphones in the windows and imbibe the grainy ambience of life into the process.”

While he talked about the liveness of the album and the lack of overdubs, he said “I’m not precious about it,” it’s whatever works, basically.

For him, music is most emotionally powerful when it truly reflects having everyone in the room. But “that’s just as much a production idea as anything else,” he said.
A live moment in the room is no less a deliberate act than any other. But “sometimes the greatest tool is to get as close to the musician’s breath and beating heart as you possibly can.”

In that, he’s right in line with Trad, and the essence of Irish music.

In the concert, it will not be a split bill. Lisa and Joe will play together:

“I’ll play guitar and sing backing vocals to her songs as it’s appropriate, illuminates the song and takes it somewhere, and I hope she’ll do the same for me,” Henry said.”I wouldn’t have thought of this tour if it weren’t for Lisa. I think I have something to learn from her. She’s a tremendously generous and unself-conscious performer, and that’s where I want to go.”

We think he’s already there. But collaboration should be something special to see. When two wonderful artists combine their talents with the aim of sharing, the result is sure to be memorable.

Joe Henry and Lisa Hannigan perform at Highline Ballroom, 431 W 16th St, between 9th & 10th Ave, Thursday and Friday, June 14 and 15, at 8 pm. (212) 414-5994
Gwen Orel
About the Author

The only New York journalist who writes for both the Forward and Irish Music Magazine.