On this Saturday Soundtrack I’m featuring the second of the three members of the roots music trio I’m With Her, the gifted singer and songwriter Aoife O’Donovan. A native of Newton, Massachusetts, O’Donovan grew up spending her summers in Ireland and singing songs with her extended family. She studied contemporary improvisation at the New England Conservatory of Music, and joined together with another classmate, plus two Berklee College of Music alums, to form the alternative-bluegrass band Crooked Still. That band, and their impressive debut album Hop High, was where I was introduced to O’Donovan.* Fiddler Brittany Haas (sister of Saturday Music musician Natalie Haas) and cellist Tristan Clarridge joined the band in 2008. Their version of When First Unto This Country is a lively tune representative of O’Donovan’s work during this period. The band is now on hiatus as the members pursue other projects.
Many people know O’Donovan through her song Lay My Burden Down, which Alison Krauss included on her Paper Airplane album. For several years, the soulful O’Donovan tune Oh Mama, from her debut solo album Fossils and heard in this live version from the show Live from Here, was at the top of my playlist each day as I walked to the gym or work.
“When I was a barmaid,
You were my mead
When I was a brave knight,
You were my steed
When I was so lonesome,
I wanted to cry
You came to me in the night
You cried Oh Mama, sing me a love song
Pour me some bourbon
Lay me down low
O baby my poor heart is breaking
I feel the ground shaking
Right under my feet.
Just put me to sleep”
Here and Heaven, co-written by O’Donovan with Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile and Stuart Duncan, for the 2011 Goat Rodeo Sessions, features these four plus Yo-Yo Ma in a performance that shows the wonderful music that was made when these incredible and disparate musicians came together for this recording. The term goat rodeo refers to a chaotic event where many things must go right for the situation to work, a reference to the unusual and challenging aspects of blending classical and bluegrass music. What you have here is a certified musical genius (Ma) along with two MacArthur Foundation genius award winners (Meyer and Thile) and two other very gifted musicians (Duncan and O’Donovan) making wonderful music.
Finally, O’Donovan has participated in Thile’s Live from Home challenge** to his regular musical guests who cannot come together during the coronavirus pandemic. O’Donovan; her husband, the cellist and conductor Eric Jacobsen; and his brother, violinist Colin Jacobsen play a beautiful, chamber-style version of The Lakes of Pontchartrain from their music room at home.
As I’ve noted recently, we don’t know when musicians will be able to tour and play live music again for audiences. O’Donovan is scheduled to tour in the United Kingdom this summer and at The Barns at Wolf Trap on September 23rd. In the meantime, see the note below about supporting Live from Here, and, if you are able, keep finding ways to send money to your favorite musicians who are hit hard by the pandemic.
Enjoy, and stay safe this week.
More to come…
*I finally got to meet her in person, for 30 seconds, in an encounter I wrote about in a post on celebrity stalking.
**A Note from the folks at Live from Here: “The Live from Home stage is a digital space where we can keep making and experiencing music and art, even while we can’t be physically together. Many performers’ gigs have been cancelled and postponed, making their incomes unstable. We encourage you to support the artists you love by buying their music and merch, and through other means of direct support.” You can support Live from Here by donating at their web site.
Image: O’Donovan playing at Red Wing Roots Festival 2015 (by DJB)