Outside the Lines: Aoife O’Donovan
By: Dallas Terry
Current Location: Boston, Massachussetts
Most Recent Release: Fossils – June 2013
For Fans of: Holly Williams, Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss
It truly is a fantastic year for female artists in Americana music. As many music writers this year have acknowledged, there has been a prolific output of outstanding albums by female artists (Holly Williams, Patty Griffin, etc). Fossils, Aoife O’Donovan’s solo debut, can go toe to toe with any of them.
Aoife O’Donovan’s musical roots are largely due to her parents, who raised her in a home always surrounded by music. Her dad, an Irish immigrant, taught her many folk songs (both Irish and American), which spawned her love for roots music. This love led her to study music in college at the New England Conservatory.
While in college, she met similar minded individuals, and they started the very distinguished folk/bluegrass group Crooked Still, who have released five albums to date. The band’s recent hiatus has allowed her to focus her efforts towards a few side projects, one of them being her career as a solo artist.
Fossils, Aoife O’Donovan’s solo debut, is a brilliant record that perfectly showcases her talents as both a singer and a songwriter. O’Donovan has mastered her vocal techniques almost to a virtuosic level. Her beautiful soprano voice soars throughout the album, bringing life to the songs that would never be possible otherwise.
Her vocal talents, however, do not downplay her songwriting abilities. She uses incredibly vivid imagery and lyrical complexities that will cause the songs to play out in one’s mind like an incredibly artistic film. If O’Donovan’s wakes up tomorrow without a voice, her career will not falter as she could easily take work as a poet.
O’Donovan’s ability to write melodies might be her most valuable trait (a trait she believes she gets from the Irish ballads she studied). “Red & White & Blue & Gold,” an unbelievably catchy song full of wistful pedal steel flourishes, will bring summer to the listener, no matter the month.
The album’s other highlights include “Lay My Burden Down,” a song penned by O’Donovan, but originally cut by Alison Krauss. The opening line of “Thursday’s Child” expresses O’Donovan’s songwriting perfectly, “I’ve got nothing to hide/I’m as naked as the day I was born.”
“Beekeeper,” shows Aoife O’Donovan can rock when she wants to, and the rollicking backbeat of “Fire Engine” and the pub-like sing-along of “Oh Mama” show that she would do just fine in a backroad bar. The call-and-response harmonies at the end of “Pearls” will make the hair on the back of your neck stand-up.
Never to be discarded, the instrumentation on this album is sublime. The arrangements are stripped-down and open, giving the songs a lot of room to breathe. The pedal steel played by Charlie Rose throughout the album is exquisite. Banjos, fiddles, piano, and O’Donovan’s own acoustic guitar picking help to bring out the roots-tinged foundation of the album. Aoife O’Donovan’s solo debut has been a long time coming, but it has been well worth the wait.