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Aoife O'Donovan - Fossils (Review)

Aoife O'Donovan, Fossils

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

IN the decade since she founded the acclaimed progressive string band Crooked Still, Aoife (pronounced “ee­fuh”) O’Donovan has collaborated with some of the most eminent names across roots, classical, bluegrass and jazz, from Alison Krauss and Chris Thile to Yo-Yo Ma and Dave Douglas.

It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that she felt the time was right to release her debut solo album, Fossils.

Produced by Tucker Martine (The Decemberists/My Morning Jacket), the ensuing LP is comprised of 10 original songs by O’Donovan with contributions from friends and frequent collaborators like Sam Amidon and Dave Douglas.

Most of the tracks resemble portions
 of the folk traditions in which she was raised and are character-driven. And it’s a frequently absorbing listen.

Admittedly, you have to have an appreciation for folk and bluegrass. But there are several songs to savour.

Album opener Lay My Burden Down is a really great intro, with O’Donovan’s laidback vocal style providing a disarming presence in spite of the dark lyricism. The strings are subtle and accomapnied by nice folk licks from an acoustic guitar, until a bluegrass guitar solo eases it to its close. Fans of Alison Krauss may already recognise the track as her interpretation of the song features on her 2011 album, Paper Airplane.

Briar Rose is a banjo-inflicted charmer is based on an Anne Sexton poem, a recontextualized fairytale, while the intimate Thursday’s Child also has some great guitar-work and a more robust percussion to drive it along.

Just occasionally, you find yourself wishing that O’Donovan inject a little more urgency into the songs, with offerings like Red & White & Blue & Gold a little too languid and delicate.

But as if realising that herself, Beekeeper slow-builds towards a rousing chorus and Fire Engine is a bit of a barnstomer that is sure to get the feet tapping and head nodding in eager appreciation.

Thereafter, a further highlight comes from the desolate Glowing Heart, which places O’Donovan’s vocals firmly front and centre (they’re almost heart-melting over the chorus), while closing track Oh, Mama slow-builds to a layered, deeply satisfying finale complete with guitar solos and a really defined sense of bluegrass and gospel. It’s a good way to round off what has to rate as a successful debut.

Download picks: Lay My Burden Down, Thursday’s Child,

Track listing:

  1. Lay My Burden Down
  2. Briar Rose
  3. Thursday’s Child
  4. Red & White & Blue & Gold
  5. Beekeeper
  6. Fire Engine
  7. Pearls
  8. Glowing Heart
  9. I’m Alone
  10. Oh, Mama