Aoife O’Donovan is best known as the lead singer of alt-bluegrass band Crooked Still who caught the worlds attention back in 2004 with their debut release ‘Hop High’. Several albums later they took a musical hiatus in 2011 to allow band members to pursue other projects. It would appear that this particular project of Aoife O’Donovan’s was seeded many years ago back in the founding years of Crooked Still whilst she was studying music at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. It was there she dreamt of one day recording an album with celebrated producer Tucker Martine whose name crops up across the Folk Radio UK website having produced Lau’s ‘Race the Loser‘, Beth Orton’s ‘Sugaring Season‘ and Laura Veirs forthcoming album ‘Warp and Weft‘.
The album title is apt, Aoife describes the passage of time for this album as a glacial affair…whilst the album has had a long gestation the results speak for themselves. Fossils is a highly accomplished album and whilst it has the initial feel of being a roots album there are constant reminders throughout that the album is so much more than this.
She admits she took some risk in opening her album with ‘Lay My Burden Down’ a song that she wrote but has become associated with Alison Krauss (Paper Airplane 2011) but she places her indelible mark upon it, she takes confident ownership and treats it as her own. Those little reminders of Tucker’s involvement crop up throughout and this is no exception with some west coast reverb electric guitar that bubbles up over halfway through, almost a playful appearance but also a bold statement.
Aoife’s inventiveness is never far as she demonstrates very ably on Briar Rose, don’t be fooled by those soft sweet vocals, this is actually a dark and haunting tale dealing with escape from abuse, based on a poem by Anne Sexton, a re-contextualized sleeping beauty.
Sonically the palette on this album is broad which is what shifts it from her more roots driven previous material with Crooked Still but it’s those little embellishments which also prevent it from falling through the shape sorter…sure there elements of roots, Americana, alt-country but the unexpected bursts of sound keep the anticipation of ‘what next’ such as the rock guitar on ‘Beekeeper‘ that carry across a repeated yearning pedal steel. ‘Fire Engine‘ is also an unexpected number, a fast paced rockin’ little country shuffle that Charlie Rose’s pedal steel features most prominently on. That pedal steel has an almost trademark appearance throughout the album, like an anchor to the less stayed electric guitar escapades.
The closing ‘Oh Mama’ is a big outro with gospel tinged backing and that jangly guitar cropping up again with some lovely fiddle work throughout. It’s at this point that you begin to appreciate Tucker’s production work with the realisation that Aoife’s vocals are at the fore of this album throughout with no instrument battling with another or detracting from her voice despite the surprising embellishments. The whole album is a great listen from beginning to end and Aoife’s dreamy vocals get the perfect treatment!
Fossils is released on Yep Roc on 24th June 2013.