Nick Bollinger surrenders to the sophisticated folk of Aoife O'Donovan.
Aoife O’Donovan was a member of Crooked Still, a forward-looking folk group from Boston who combined bluegrass roots with jazz virtuosity. Since going solo, her music has become an even more accomplished hybrid.
In The Magic Hour is Aoife O’Donovan’s lush new album, and the follow-up to Fossils, her 2013 solo debut. There’s clearly a niche here – a sophisticated country-folk sound – that O’Donovan is angling to occupy. But the warm familiarity is just a way of drawing you into a record that quietly reshapes the genre.
O’Donovan has worked for the second time with producer and engineer Tucker Martine (Decemberists, R.E.M.) and he seems to be just the person to help realise her ambitions in the studio. There’s a lot going on, from swooping string lines to restless rhythms and chord changes Joni Mitchell might have come up with.
But if In The Magic Hour finds O’Donovan weaving ever more sophisticated compositions, she also looks back, not just musically but to the formative experiences of childhood. As her name would suggest O’Donovan’s roots are Irish. And though she was born and brought up in New England, her childhood was peppered with visits to her ancestral home of County Cork, in the Republic of Ireland. That’s where she would spend summers with her Irish grandfather and some of his twenty-six grandchildren. He died, age 93, around the time O’Donovan began work on this album, but his presence is felt tangibly, particularly in ‘Donal Og’, which incorporates what sounds like a field recording of him singing. The effect is both ghostlike and comforting.
Songs played: Stanley Park; Porch Light; The King Of All Birds; Magpie; Donal Og; Not The Leaving; Magic Hour