Sinéad Lohan

I was standing in the shower when an ugly realization hit me. I'd completely forgotten a writing assignment. A crucial deadline now hovered perilously close on the horizon . . . and I was due in Los Angeles in a matter of hours.

Composing the piece as I typed, I tried not to look at the clock. Upon completion, I shoved a fistful of clothes into my gym bag and leapt into the car. An auto accident on the highway ate up more precious moments, but I pushed on. Just minutes from the airport—and my scheduled departure—my vehicle came perilously close to overheating. But miraculously, I arrived safely and sprinted to my gate, the last passenger to board.

As the plane took off, I was too frazzled to read or write, and in no mood to hear the band I was scheduled to chat with later in LA; the throbbing electronics of Underworld wouldn't provide a much-needed panacea. I popped the only other disc in my bag, completely untested, into my CD player: Sin顤 Lohan's No Mermaid (Interscope Records).

Within just the first few bars of the title cut from this Irish singer/ songwriter's domestic debut, I felt a sense of calm descending. Lohan's lilting but confident delivery refreshed my tired mind like sonic sorbet. The lovey-dovey yuppies and unruly children seated around me, my traumas of the morning . . . they all dissipated in the musical mist.

When I share this episode with the singer a few weeks later, she chuckles. "I just try to draw people in, take them out of their own thinking, and lead them on to feel something about themselves." Creating a mood takes precedence over broadcasting a specific lyrical message. "I'm not trying to convince anybody of anything," she insists.

Perhaps that's why her songs are so affecting. Although Lohan deploys language with remarkable precision, her lyrics are very open to interpretation. Being reared in a country that reveres its poets and writers helped shape her craft, but mostly the 27-year-old songwriter simply follows her own muse. "Oftentimes I just use words because I like the sound of them," she admits. "I put Nairobi into a song on my first [UK-only] album, and people are always asking, 'What's the connection? Do you want to go there?'" Nope, it just sounded properly evocative.

The same sentiment extends to her extensive use of water imagery throughout the 12 tunes of No Mermaid, from titles like "Diving to Be Deeper" to lines including "You will find me down by the river/Getting high on my mortality" (from "Whatever It Takes . . . "). "The image of water is vague in itself," she explains of the attraction. "You can apply it to any of the human emotions quite safely and get away with it."

But the most amazing thing about my immediate connection to Lohan's music was the ease with which she leapt over a high hurdle in my brain. Lately, everywhere I turn, I'm confronted with dewy-eyed Jewel and her bosom, or Alanis' radio-friendly rage, or any number of other overrated female singers whose cultural significance far outweighs their meager talents. Sin顤, like Beth Orton or even Sarah McLachlan and Tori Amos (in moderate doses), serves up much more, and with far less fanfare.

"There are a lot of them around now," she observes of this clique of peers, "but probably of very varying standards. They seem to be writing to formula. Among what we think of these angst-ridden female singer/songwriters who are around now, I'd find it hard to find somebody of the standard of Joni Mitchell, who's been around a long time and is of very high quality."

Try looking in the mirror sometime, Sin顤. And if the rest of you don't believe me, check out her show at the King Cat Theater this Tuesday. You might just be surprised.

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