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Artist of the Month: Aoife O’Donovan

Mar 4, 2024

Artist of the Month: Aoife O'Donovan

There’s a confidence and ease to Aoife O’Donovan‘s music making, brought forward throughout her career by her languid, tender, and emotive voice. Just as striking and crystalline as it is cozy and comforting, her voice is a truly iconic instrument in Americana, bluegrass, and new acoustic music. Still, as she readies her new solo album, All My Friends (out March 22 on Yep Roc), it feels as though O’Donovan is decidedly stepping into a new era of confidence and self-assuredness, devoid of any sense of desperation or flightiness or unfettered ambitions. There’s a steady, intentional march to the blossoming of her catalog and her artistry and it’s on full display on All My Friends.

The album was conceived as a sort of tribute to or reckoning with the cross-generational struggle for women’s rights, highlighting the passage of the 19th Amendment over 100 years ago and picking up that timeless mantle of ever-striding towards justice. It’s a perfect project to highlight during Women’s History Month; the intellectual and political messages within it are softened – though never outright whitewashed, revised, or sanitized – by O’Donovan’s perspective as a mother of a young daughter. With All My Friends, she is continuing her journey with another timeless tradition in string band music: the role of mother-activist-songwriter-composer.

One of the record’s lead singles, “Daughters,” was heralded in a press releases as “a meditation on the eternal quest for women’s rights and equality.” Meditative qualities might be the most tangible and original through line of O’Donovan’s songwriting, song collection, composition, and her vocal affectations – from as far back as her days with Crooked Still, or evidenced by the songs she brought to her supergroup trio, I’m With Her, with Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz. As on “Daughters,” O’Donovan more often than not opts for quiet-and-impassioned, subdued-while-soaring vocals. She’ll wrap you in the gauze and glitter of her one of a kind voice and, in doing so, prepare you ever so gently and kindly to receive the messages in her lyrics – however demonstrative or abstract they may be.

O’Donovan’s latest era of confidence is also well marked by her vast and varied resume of musical collaborations. Besides Crooked Still and I’m With Her, she’s released music with Goat Rodeo (Stuart Duncan, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile), Noam Pikelny, the Milk Carton Kids, Taylor Ashton, Donovan Woods, and so many more. In more recent months and years, she’s featured Allison Russell on a track (on 2022’s Age of Apathy), collaborated with mind-boggling guitarist Yasmin Williams and step-dancer Nic Gareiss on a stunning number entitled “Dawning,” and even “came back” to straight ahead bluegrass with a recent single feature on a Becky Buller track, “Jubilee.”

Her output is ceaseless, her art is prolific, but here – as in the new album, and across her discography – the hallmark of O’Donovan’s work isn’t volume, but intention. This is not breakneck, music industry ladder climbing, this is an artist deliberately expanding the universe of her music bit by bit, voice by voice, collaboration by collaboration. It’s part of why she’s such an effective voice and influence in control rooms, too. (Though her production credits are relatively few, they are mighty.) And it’s part of why, as you scroll through our Essential Aoife O’Donovan playlist, you’ll find as many surprising and eyebrow-raising selections as you will her mighty, familiar modern classics.

All My Friends – with appearances by The Knights, The Westerlies, Anaïs Mitchell, Sierra Hull, Pikelny, and more – is yet another demonstration of O’Donovan’s community, her central role within it, and her confidence in inhabiting that role wholly and completely. This is meditation without stagnation, orchestration without machinations, softness and tenderness, but with a steel spine. These are challenges to the status quo while knowing real progress is made with one foot placed in front of the other – and with many other footsteps following her own.

Throughout the month of March, as we highlight Women’s History Month, we’ll be celebrating the new album, All My Friends, and Aoife O’Donovan as our Artist of the Month. Stay tuned for a special “In Conversation” Artist of the Month feature to come later in March featuring an amazing artist and collaborator of O’Donovan, and we’ll also be dipping back into the BGS archives to resurface so many amazing songs, videos, articles, and stories that highlight the incredible music of Aoife O’Donovan.

Photo Credit: Sasha Israel

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Artist of the Month: Aoife O'Donovan
Artist of the Month: Aoife O'Donovan