On the Edge: Aoife O’Donovan

photo by Shawn Brackbill/Shore Fire Media

Fans of acoustic music might recognize Aoife O’Donovan’s name as the longtime leader of progressive string band Crooked Still, which formed in Boston nearly 10 years ago. With that band taking a hiatus, Aoife (pronounced ee-fuh) decamped to Portland, Ore., to record her solo album with producer Tucker Martine (Neko Case, R.E.M.). 

“I always thought of doing a solo record,” she explains while between West Coast gigs. “I just didn’t do it because I was doing something else. It was kind of as simple as that. Crooked Still took up the bulk of my time between 2004 and 2011, when we decided to put it on the back burner for a while.” The resulting album, Fossils, arrived in mid-2013 to rave reviews and offered an eclectic mix of tunes, from the more traditional “Lay My Burden Down” (an Aoife song that Alison Krauss cut on Paper Airplanes) to the full-band country rocker “Oh, Mama.” 

Aoife’s voice, gorgeously pure and high, may recall Alison Krauss at times but steers away from bluegrass on the lovely “Red & White & Blue & Gold,” which mulls over relationship confusion against a colorful summer evening backdrop. “It’s more just a typical, wistful song of longing—and to evoke the feeling of dusk on the bay,” she says. “It’s not dark out yet, but it’s kind of nighttime and you’re just wondering about all of it. It’s certainly not autobiographical, but I think everybody can relate to the vibe of wondering what the status of a relationship is.”

She also displays a willingness to record more challenging compositions like “Beekeeper,” which boasts jagged spasms of electric guitar and a deceptively exotic rhythm. “The cool thing that’s happened with ‘Beekeeper’ is that a lot of people who don’t think in those terms don’t even realize that ‘Beekeeper’ is in an odd time signature. They’re just like, ‘Oh, cool, groovy!’” She laughs, and continues. “Actually, the other night at a show, people were trying to clap along to it or stomp their feet and it was so funny because you can’t really unless you turn it around. It cracked me up. You could see these people trying to do it. They would lose the beat and be like, ‘What happened?’”

Learn more about Aoife O’Donovan.

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