“I feel like it’s my birthday or something…I guess it’s my album’s birthday,” remarked Aoife (pronounced “ee-feh”) O’Donovan sheepishly at the early show Tuesday at Mercury Lounge. She later commented that after YEARS of playing shows under her name in NYC, it’s nice to, “finally have something to sell.” She’s referring to her debut album Fossils, which is a full band effort that harnesses her sharp, yet breathy vocals with a genre bending sound that ranges from upbeat Alison Krauss country rock, the folk beauty of old-school Jewel, to singer-songwriter ballads in the vein of an inebriated Norah Jones.
Fossils is chock full of really catchy melodies and a genuine sensibility that shall, if you choose to let it, slather itself into the nooks and crannies of your life. I'm telling you right now, if you hit play, it may not be much of a choice, so listener be warned!!?
O’Donovan was the lead singer of an alternative bluegrass band called Crooked Still, who have produced high energy tours and innovative acoustic instrumentation for over 10 years. They recently disbanded to pursue solo projects. I discovered Aoife as part of the Chris Thile umbrella, laying down scintillating vocals on The Goat Rodeo Sessions (a super-band with Thile, Yo Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, etc, etc), as well as Noam Pikelny’s latest solo album, Beat the Devil and Carry a Rail. I saw her perform as part of the Punch Brothers Super Pass Day 2, closing out 2012 at Bowery Ballroom, to which I reviewed coyly, “And Aoife told stories and wrote songs, much in the way the Punch Brothers do that involve an adult beverage or seven throughout, which tends to tug at my soul oh so gently. Keeping me eternally warm and fuzzy.”
I came to Mercury Lounge with one particular song in my head that resonating eternally clear since that fateful January 30th evening at Bowery. I remembered it was this sweet little ditty about sticking your toes in the sand, being sung to sleep on the beach and being warm and seeing stars (bonus points for this KILLER double entendre?) romantic on the 4th of July. It’s one of those times when you hear a song and it just cuts you to the core with a visceral hug of addiction. You HAVE to hear that song again. I was waiting for it all set, and was starting to wonder if somehow, this amazing song kind of missed her “cut” if you will? That would be TRAGIC!?!?! Turns out, she saved it for the end of her set, and even brought out fellow Thile umbrella-er, from Nickel Creek, Sara Watkins to help her out. The song is called “Red & White & Blue & Gold” and it’s just so pretty. One of the most heartwarming, lost in a moment you can’t control, songs I’ve ever heard. Just a gem.
“Come on lie next to me
I’ll sing you to sleep, I’ll sing you to sleep,
There’s a band on the boardwalk, you’re tapping your feet
But I’m too drunk to daaaaaaance
Black and blue all on my face, I wanna follow you home
I wanna see your place
I wanna take you in my arms, float down a river with you
I wanna buy the farm
Swoon. Stay still sensitive Zerfas heart.
She recently had her track “Beekeeper” (also a title of a FANTASTIC Punch Brothers song) featured on iTunes as the “free download of the week.” Good press and an even better song. It’s one of those songs that will convey instantaneous emotional investment. It seems heavy from the incarnation and lyrics like “I wanna know all of the ribs in your cage/two by two, part of me lives in you and I’m a goddamn fool/just make your move, or get out of the game.” I look at it as a compelling song about the chase, and the ride you take throughout that whole process. And, if you’re anything like me, it’s quite a process. The song, like the process, seems to topsy-turvy itself giving power to each side of the narrative in a true push-pull result tally of sort. God, I hate being so emotional, but I love how she seems to soundtrack this maniacal moment to song, in such a visceral, yet down to Earth and realistic way.
The song that to me shows her range as a vocalist is “Pearls,” a song that, to me, plays off like a more complete “Fashion Coat” by The National. The song builds and builds in a methodical folk-rock song with elegantly stretching breathy vocals like a rubber band. Around the 3:10 mark in the song, there is a dramatic turn and she majestically sings the hook in a way I can’t get out of my head. It’s just so damn pretty…
“everywhere I wanna go
you’re never where I wanna go”
Which directly links to me to the aforementioned favorite National hook, from the album Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers…
“Everywhere I am is just another thing
Without you in it”
The song range of Fossils is dynamic in genre as well as instrumentation, with a shit-ton of variety including: Guitars, banjo, lap steel, pedal steel, accordion, fiddle, trumpet, Wurlitzer, mellotron, organ, and “Oh, Mama” even has what’s been billed as a “bourbon choir?”
Schlotzsky’s Deli has a slogan: Funny name, serious sandwich. I can’t help but think of that when I see the name Aoife O’Donovan. Her sister sings on the album too, with the name Fionnuala O’Donovan. I want to make name tags at that family reunion?!!? Perhaps her parents are Bob and Mary or something and have much childhood drama about having common folk names. Anyway, the album is a serious, legit, must have piece of art for the summer. July 4th is coming up. Dig your toes into the sand, water and THIS ALBUM!