It hardly seems fair to classify Aoife (pronounced “EE-fah”) O’Donovan as an up-and-comer, seeing as she’s pretty much a veteran in the Americana/folk scene. Many fans will probably recognize her voice as the centerpiece of string band Crooked Still, and some will also remember her as a member of female folk-noir act Sometymes Why. In her time, she’s shared both stage and studio with the likes of Chris Thile, Sarah Jarosz, Yo-Yo Ma and many others.
But when O’Donovan signed with Yep Rock Records last fall, she got one step closer to her dream of branching out on her own as a solo artist. Her debut album Fossils, released last week, is the fulfillment of that dream, and is proof positive that she has the chops to carry things on her own. The draw is not so much a matter of in-your-face performance as it is O’Donovan’s smooth, buttery voice, which reminds me somewhat of the vibe of Sarah Jarosz. That, and outstanding songwriting.
If you’re an Americana/folk fan like me, you’ll probably recognize the opening song “Lay My Burden Down” from Alison Krauss’ Paper Airplane record. It’s not a cover; O’Donovan wrote that song, and Krauss was the one who actually covered it. (Told you O’Donovan was a veteran.) While alternative bluegrass is probably the best way to describe the musical style of Fossils, O’Donovan actually dips her toes into other roots-related genres, touching on blues-rock on “Beekeeper” and even a bit of gospel on “Oh, Mama”, but proving herself to be completely comfortable in all of them. And make no mistake—this is not yesteryear’s Americana. O’Donovan is really quite progressive in her approach, unafraid to use complex time changes and affected guitars and violins to modernize the sound. It’s ear candy all around.
Aoife O’Donovan is no stranger to the music scene, and this long-awaited solo effort shows that her time has come. Her unusual name might not be known by many at this moment, but I think that’s going to change.