Aoife O’Donovan – Latest Music Bar (Brighton, UK – Jan. 31, 2014)
A wet, windy night during the winter storms sweeping the country made me wonder how many people would turn out on such an evening for Aoife O’Donovan’s first ever Brighton show. I needn’t have worried. Many, like me, made the trip and O’Donovan opened to a pretty packed room in the basement of the Latest Music Bar. She herself had battled the motorway traffic from Oxford on a Friday afternoon (why didn’t anyone warn her?) and arrived with literally minutes to spare before the opening act was due on stage!
Therefore without the benefit or comfort of a sound check, this diminutive young lady still held the audience in thrall throughout. Listening very attentively as she sang songs from her debut solo album FOSSILS and some well-chosen covers, the audience was charmed by her expressive and gentle vocals. She is of course known for being the lead vocalist in the bluegrass band Crooked Still and her years of performing with them shows through in a quiet yet confident demeanour on stage.
Relaxed and chatty throughout, it was delightful to hear the back-stories to some of the songs. FOSSILS featured in many ‘Best of 2013’ listings; I found it one of those collections that required repeated listening to gain a full appreciation of – that is often a good sign. In a live setting with just an acoustic guitar for accompaniment, the lyrical quality of the songs really came to life. Lay My Burden Down the album’s opening track was a hit for Alison Krauss (their voices are not dissimilar) but the stand out (for me) is Red and White and Blue and Gold a love song set against the backdrop of Coney Island. It just transports you to a summer’s day at the beach…
Homage to Crooked Still was paid through the murder ballad Pretty Polly and Red Stick Blues. Dues were also paid to some icons including Blaze Foley (Clay Pigeons) – that was particularly poignant as it was the eve of the 25th anniversary of his untimely death and Joni Mitchell (You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio). She also covered the traditional Creole love song Lakes of Ponchatrain which she’d learned after hearing Irishman Paul Brady’s interpretation of it. When singing songs that were written from a male perspective she didn’t change the lyrics to accommodate her gender but the songs still worked beautifully – her alto voice caressing the lyrics so sensitively.
At the end of her set, O’Donovan encouraged the audience to sing along to Oh, Mama saying that she’d teach us the words but was thrilled to see that many knew the words anyway! That showed just how many fans she has garnered and how her solo work is resonating with her audience. It’s no wonder that USA Today called her ‘the newest darling of the Americana set’. Jela Webb