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Album Review: Aoife O’Donovan – Fossils

3 min read

After playing with folk groups Crooked Still and Sometymes Why, Massachusetts-born siren Aoife O’Donovan wished to spread her musical wings a little. In 2010, she released her first solo work, Blue Light, proving that she could indeed take flight as a bluegrass songwriter in her own right. Then in April, 2013, she released a single from the (then) recently announced full album, titled Red & White & Blue & Gold.

AoifeODonovanFossilsO’Donovan’s newest release, simply called Fossils, uses her trademark style of bluegrass/country fusion to take the listener on a journey through rural settings and small-town scenery. However, the album opener is unorthodox lyrically to say the least: Lay My Burden Down describes O’Donovan’s non-chalant feelings of death and what comes after. Before you have time to digest this odd start, however, it turns into a love song, where she longs to communicate with her mortal man, from beyond the grave: “And when I touch my feet on the land, I’ll kiss your lips and take your hands, you know I’m not here to stay, it’s just too far. Darling, can’t you hear my crying, my bones are broke, my tongue is tied.” Sonically, the song phases into a twangy guitar bit, in the style of Duane Eddy. Lay my Burden Down finishes with O’Donovan detailing her fictional ascent to heaven: “When I wake, the trumpets play, and I’m standing at the gate, fall down in joy, I know my race has just been won”.

A couple tracks later you have Thursday’s Child. This tune seems to revolved around the overriding sense of freedom that comes from complete independence: “No one’s riding shotgun, I’m driving alone, I can turn up the music, do whatever I want”. The sonic qualities of the song complement the sense of hope that the lyrics bring. This eventually culminates in a beautifully composed steel guitar solo, with O’Donovan’s warbling vocals adding to the joy of the moment.

Beekeeper is the track that breaks the pattern of O’Donovan’s predominantly timid, breathless vocals, and supplants them with more aggressive, edgier, one might even say, sassier retorts. It’s the bipolarity of the lyrics on this track that make it further stick out, where bouts of bravado(“So swallow your bitter pill, you said you were a thrill seeker, but whats your thrill?”), go right along with drops in self confidence (“You asked me why I didn’t send you a note, I threw my pen in the gutter with what I wrote”). The icing on this cake is the impromptu, wild guitar solo that erupts near the end of the song.

In the end, its O’Donovan’s distinct flair that makes this album shine. Rather than taking majestic natural landscapes or evoking rustic American nostalgia, her style of bluegrass lyricism takes ordinary objects and stories from everyday life and weaves the life and breath that music provides into them. And that is where her genius lies.