Aoife O’Donovan solo concert – review

This review is long overdue for one reason or another, but I still thought it was worthwhile to share this, to spread the word about the awesome artist that is Aoife O’Donovan! Lead singer and creative force of talented alt-bluegrass quintet Crooked Still for over ten years, O’Donovan has been forging ahead with her solo career since the band went on long-term hiatus back in 2012.

In a band full of talent and virtuosity, O’Donovan stood out in Crooked Still as a hugely gifted songwriter and band leader, although the group concentrated largely on interpreting traditional songs and tunes (albeit in a wonderfully original manner thanks to their superb arrangements). Her song Lay My Burden Down was recorded by bluegrass legend Alison Krauss, first for the feature film Get Low and subsequently released on Union Station’s latest CD Paper Airplane. Aoife’s own interpretation of the song kicked off her first solo album Fossils, released back in June 2013 (see my blog update here). A charismatic performer as well as talented musician, O’Donovan also featured on the latest series of popular BBC TV series Transatlantic Sessions.

Back in late May I travelled over to Lancashire to see Aoife play at the Fox Lane Sports & Social Club (her only concert in the north of England). An unpromising-sounding venue actually turned out to be a very pleasant room for this intimate gig, which was part of the Mr Kite Benefits concert series run by the amiable Steve Henderson (a promoter who has long championed bluegrass and Americana in the UK). Sterling support was provided by the entertaining Rachel Ries, and then Aoife took to the stage.

The first time I had seen Ms O’Donovan perform live outside the full band setting, her performance – just that voice backed by her gorgeous old Martin guitar – was truly mesmerising. The set featured a number of impressive O’Donovan originals including Oh Mama and Love Sick Red Stick Blues. As well as being an excellent songwriter, Aoife is also a master (mistress?) of interpretation, and on a drizzly Wednesday night in Lancashire she held the audience spellbound with her sensitive renditions of The Lakes of Pontchartrain, John Prine’s Clay Pigeons and You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio by Joni Mitchell. Her sensitive and rhythmic guitar playing was the perfect foil for her tender and expressive vocals.

Aoife’s bluegrass roots were also showcased with a hypnotic version of the old murder ballad Pretty Polly and the delightful Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Foot, dedicated to the late Doc Watson. I’ve said it before but this young lady (still only just the far side of 30) is an absolute star. Hopefully she’ll be returning to the UK in the first part of 2015, so keep your eyes and ears open – and catch her live set if you possibly can!