AOIFE O’ DONOVAN – Age Of Apathy (Yep Roc Records)

Age Of ApathyAoife O’ Donovan’s new album, Age Of Apathy, is a wonderful and very modern American folk record that allows earthy acoustic instruments to float with a soft helium touch.

It’s just a biographical (and tangential) idea, but Aoife’s music is in cahoots with the scientific string theory, which states (thank you, Wikipedia!), “One of the many vibrational states of the string corresponds to the graviton, a quantum mechanical particle that carries the gravitational force. Thus (Thank you, once again, Wikipedia!!), string theory is a theory of quantum gravity”.

Put simply: Aoife’s origins began with the very great string-based roots band Crooked Still, and she has now morphed into a third solo record that examines post 911 America, and, perhaps, has expanded like the universe into that (before-mentioned) helium touch.

In truth, this album is rooted in the 70’s west coast Laurel Canyon sound. And Steven Stills (more about whom later!) pretty much caught the drift of that very same string theory as he sang, “If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with”, which may, in a weird pop folk culture way, explain the universe.

Now to an obvious elephant in this record’s music room (riding, of course, in a Big Yellow Taxi) that just has to be addressed: Aoife’s album certainly conjures the very best of Joni Mitchell, with emotive vocals and deep melodies with at times breezy jazz instrumentation. In fact, the title track, ‘Age Of Apathy’ even quotes the words of Blue’s ‘My Old Man’, with that bit about Graham Nash being “a dancer in the dark”.  ‘Phoenix’ truly evokes the spirit of ‘Free Man In Paris’. And ditto for the very excellent piano ballad, ‘B61’. That said, (and “for what it’s worth”), Steve Stills sort of sang, if you can’t listen to a new album by an artist you love, love the record you are with (aka this one – which is a very good spin!).

That said, the Age Of Apathy holds its own depth with other current excellent singer songwriters like Sarah Jarosz, Marissa Nadler, Sara Watkins, and the (post big label) authentic music of Shelby Lynne. I suppose, a lot of great music is a continuous Hejira that, quite simply, pursues a pluck on that universal string theory vibration. That’s certainly true for the first song, ‘Sister Starling’, which is a melodic and dramatic jazzy tune that never denies its folk song roots. The same is true for the complex ‘Elevators’, which is graced with a soulful voice and possesses a distinct (and really nice!) artful dissonance. And thanks must go to Joe Henry for his production job that adds a slight gothic feel to the proceedings.

In contrast, ‘Prodigal Daughter’ is understated and very pure, with a wonderful forgiving melody that sings with the beauty of salvation. Indeed, Aoife O’ Donovan, while being part of big time folk music evolution, is spinning her very own musical wool. ‘Galahad’ evokes the elevated grace of Sandy Denny in her ‘Reno, Nevada’ days. That‘s a big compliment. Again, the tune spirals into the spooky soul of honest America. ‘Town Of Mercy’ is quiet, but it touches the deep heavens, in which a melody finds dark introspection. Then, ‘Lucky Star’ gets melodically weird and rides a rollercoaster melody with even more artful dissonance that propels the song into the deep and quite sinister mystery of gothic contemplation. It’s a really cool tune, and it recalls the fun of an early Kate Bush song, with a bit of a delightful wailing at the moon vocal. Oh my – ‘What Do You Want From Me’ just sings with yet another dramatic vocal that smokes from an acoustic campfire into a mysterious night sky, while those eerie string theory sounds, with their “theory of quantum gravity” (whatever that means!) still dance and float with helium delight.

And the final song, ‘Passengers’, is a return to a welcome breeze that blows through this music, with a final electric guitar bit, that morphs into a friendly journey that somehow manages to glance with hope into the future, but still, waves a defiant and weirdly wonderful melody (will slight shades of JM’s ‘All I Want’) that’s tucked into its final inner groove.

So, yeah, Steven Stills sang, “Love the one you’re with”. And this is acoustic sting theory stuff that has spun (and vibrated!) into the very new vinyl grooves that understand that old stars, even after all these years, still manage to gift their light and song to an ever expanding and very folk music loving musical universe, that started, in theory, with a few strings in some cosmic barn – strings that are just waiting for a chance to continue the dance into eternity, of course (and always) “with the one you’re with”.

Bill Golembeski

Artist’s website:

‘Age Of Apathy’ – official lyric video:

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