Aoife O’Donovan belongs to the very small group of artists that I discovered as an opener for another musician and then left the show thinking that I immediately needed to devour her entire discography.
Allow me to paint you a picture: in the era of Taylor Swift’s sold out stadiums, it’s sometimes hard to remember that she was once a card-carrying member of the Girl With Guitar Club, an association that I still count myself in on occasion. There are many such artists, so it can take a certain something to stand out and to lay claim to a sound that is entirely unique, something that I think Aoife does well: when she is on stage your attention does not wander to the person sitting next to you or the roadie waiting just offstage in the shadows or the people coming in late. Your attention is only on her, on her guitar, and on her voice.
Aoife is no stranger to folk music, having played with Crooked Still in the past, but with her sophomore album In The Magic Hour, released in January of this year, she continues to solidify her place as a solo musician, and one who has a strong command of the folk and Americana genres with her Irish roots showing very clearly in many of the tracks.
A beautiful follow up to her previous record, Fossils, written on the heels of Aoife’s grandfather’s death, the record opens ethereal and dreamy with “Stanley Park,” which is not especially a stand-out track so much as it feels like waking up in the morning. You’re immediately comfortable in the sound and the album, which paves the way well for the rest of what is to follow. “Magic Hour” continues the folksy feel, and is an absolutely brilliant title track. It has all of the makings of a classic folk rock song and was one of my favorites that we heard from her live. If you listen to nothing else from Aoife, I suggest checking out the “Magic Hour” video below!
Listening to “Hornets” and “Magpie,” I felt so strongly that she would feel right at home at the Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival in North Carolina… which I’ve mentioned before is a tone that I appreciate in a good folk record. The lyrics and melody together create a raw, honest sound reminiscent of lying out in the field on a spring afternoon, which all in all creates a very interesting, very visual sound for the record.
“Donal Óg” feels like a nice interlude and traditional track with the way it builds from a purely instrumental place, especially with the inclusion of Aoife’s grandfather (or at least, so I believe based on some other remarks on the album) as an almost ghost-like presence at the end of the song. She uses this track not unlike how Glen Hansard used “McCormick’s Wall” on his latest full record; it comes from a transitional place to move us in to “The King of All Birds,” which carries a much stronger rock feel with almost disjointed instrumentals that create a unique, aggressive sound. And it feels fair to compare her to Glen, of course: on his latest tour through the midwest United States is where I saw Aoife perform as his opening act.
“Not The Leaving” is another dreamy, restful song that feels like the sunset to the sunrise that is “Stanley Park”, which makes for a very interesting pair with “Detour Sign,” which together help us to cope with the end of the album’s journey as we reach the finale.
The record closes on “Jupiter,” which is an absolutely poetic closer to the story that is In The Magic Hour. Throughout the record sometimes her words lilt this way and that without forming full, repetitive verses, but she pulls it off well and perhaps no better than in this track, that feels more like spoken word than a song, in all of the best ways. The guitar and drum accompaniment would feel all over the place if not for the way it so perfectly frames her voice.
In the Magic Hour is not necessarily a stand-out album in the world of Americana and folk music, but Aoife O’Donovan’s voice, lyrics, and style are more than suited to sit next to some of the greats. I think her style both sets her apart and reminds me of other ethereal Americana songstresses like Alison Krauss. The record at times does have a sort of raw, unpolished sound, but it works for Aoife and creates a beautiful, relaxing experience that doesn’t just entice you with the music but tells a story and invites you to come along and be a part of the journey.
In The Magic Hour was released on January 22, 2016 via Yep Roc Records. You can stream the entire album on Spotify if you’d like to check out the album before you buy, or you can pick up a deluxe copy at Amazon for $12.99 USD (or $19.99 on vinyl!) or for $9.99 USD on iTunes.
You can also see Aoife O’Donovan on tour in the United States through at least April 2016, with information and dates being available on her website.