Measuring time in magic hours
Aoife O’Donovan played so many shows in Cincinnati from 2015-18 that she joked about buying property here during a performance with Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz (I’m With Her) in 2018. I talked to her in 2016 when she played the 20th Century after releasing “In the Magic Hour.” Since then, she has become a mother, won a Grammy for I’m With Her’s “Call My Name” (Best American Roots Song), and released her first new music in four years, “Bull Frogs Croon (and Other Songs),” an EP made with a string quartet. She plays Memorial Hall in the Longworth-Anderson Series March 22.
Aoife O’Donovan believes in magic.
Not necessarily the David Copperfield brand, but that which transpires among family, friends, communities and kindred spirits. And music, certainly music.
The singer-songwriter was surprised when she discovered something special in Cincinnati. This will be her fourth visit since January 2015 and she is excited to return.
“I’ve been so welcomed into the Cincinnati community,” says the Brooklyn-based musician who grew up in Boston and regularly visited family in Ireland (her name is pronounced EE-fah) during summer vacations while growing up. “I did shows with the Cincinnati Pops last January and July. Then the whole crew came to the Taft (Theatre) when I opened for Glen Hansard in November.
“It really did feel like, ‘Oh, I have people here, I have friends here and I know where to get coffee.’ I’m really looking forward to reconnecting with (them) and hope that the people who saw me with the orchestra will come see me in a totally different kind of show.”
The spotlight has brightened on O’Donovan since the January release of her second solo album, “In the Magic Hour.” She made her national television debut on CBS’s “Saturday Sessions” in January with guitarist Anthony da Costa and drummer Steve Nistor, who are touring with her.
But the foundation for O’Donovan’s breakout has been in the works since her days at the New England Conservatory of Music 15 years ago. During that span, she was a founding member of the bluegrass band Crooked Still, one-third of the neo-folk trio Sometymes Why, played with Yo-Yo Ma and Chris Thile among others on the “The Goat Rodeo Sessions” album in 2011, released her solo debut “Fossils” in 2013, and toured with Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz as I’m With Her last year.
Do these projects magically appear or is there a method to the magic?
“I think to a certain extent you have to make a road map, sort of year by year of what you want to accomplish, of what you’re going to give time to,” O’Donovan says. “Crooked Still hasn’t been a touring band for the last five years, so it’s easier to have that a little bit on the back burner. The crazy thing about the I’m With Her project was that it was really, really fun and we’re going to do it again in the future. But this year is focused on my solo album and it’s been fun to sink my teeth into that right now.
“But everyone needs time at home as well, to be creative, to cook, to spend time with family. So there’s a road map for sure, but it’s not drawn in pen. It’s sketched out with colors everywhere with room to veer off if need be.”
The path to “Magic Hour” traveled through the Irish village of Clonakilty, where O’Donovan’s grandfather lived before his death at age 93. Many of the songs reflect his spirit; “Donal Óg” even contains his voice.
“Talking about my grandfather, it’s definitely loss and definitely loneliness, but not sad or devastating,” she says. “I think (the album) is more of a meditation on the journey of life, all of the joys and sorrows that come with it.”
And the magic, too.