Aoife O'Donovan, In the Magic Hour, feature CD, 5/27
Aoife O'Donovan returns to the KSUT listening area with a headlining performance at the Pagosa Folk & Bluegrass Festival next weekend (6/3-5). As a warm up, KSUT is featuring her new CD 'In the Magic Hour' on Friday 5/27 at noon.
In the quiet moments found between touring her first solo album and collaborating with mainstay folk and bluegrass peers, Aoife O’Donovan found the inspiration to write her sophomore album “In the Magic Hour” recently released on Yep Roc Records.
The songwriting process for “In the Magic Hour” coincided with the death of O’Donovan’s grandfather, at age 93. She remembers him as a “gentle soul,” in the small Irish village of Clonakilty where he lived. The lyrics on “In the Magic Hour” are infused with a sense of loss and mortality’s dark certainty. But the album is just as much an ode to O’Donovan’s joyful childhood visits to Ireland. Aunts, uncles, grandparents and flocks of cousins would gather at the Clonakilty seaside to swim in the chilly ocean and sing together in the lingering Irish summer twilight. “In my memory it was sunny every day,” O’Donovan says. “Although that definitely cannot be true.”
The result of O’Donovan’s days of solitude is a 10-song album full of the singer’s honeyed vocals mixed with gauzy, frictionless sounds: splashing cymbals, airy harmonies, the leisurely baritone musings of an electric guitar.
O’Donovan had not yet performed many of the songs live before arranging and recording them over the course of three sessions in Tucker Martine’s (The Decemberists, Neko Case), studio in Portland, OR. “The whole recording process was really Tucker [Martine] and me taking these songs and building them from the ground up,” O’Donovan says. The result is deliberate but not over-done, the freshness of the material intact.
While “In The Magic Hour” rekindles the creative partnership with Grammy-nominated producer Martine, the album also highlights the fruits of O’Donovan’s various career collaborations. Composer Gabriel Kahane, New York’s string quartet Brooklyn Rider and musician Chris Thile all lend musical and vocal support, as well as I’m With Her band members Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz, plus many more.
Throughout “In the Magic Hour,” O’Donovan’s grandfather flits in and out like a beloved specter. His voice appears in the mournful “Donal Óg,” tremulous and faraway. And the transcendent “Magpie,” named for Ireland’s ubiquitous birds, was written for him.
Flight and loneliness are enduring themes throughout “In the Magic Hour,” which takes much of its inspiration from O’Donovan’s itinerant lifestyle. But she finds herself reaching, again and again, for something more substantial. The songs on “In the Magic Hour” are like specks of dust floating in the tall arches of a cathedral, privy to the endless rituals of life and death and stirred occasionally by the flutter of pigeon wings. Graceful and light, they search, softly, for a place to rest.