Aoife O'Donovan

Aoife O'Donovan

In the quiet moments found between touring her first solo album and collaborating with a laudable list of musical peers (more on them later), Aoife O’Donovan found the inspiration to write her sophomore album In the Magic Hour — out Jan. 22, 2016 on Yep Roc Records.

“Flying, getting the rental car, eating all my meals alone...” O’Donovan says. “I just remember sitting with a book in Germany two winters ago, feeling so happy that after the show I could have a Hefeweizen and read and not talk to anybody. And I think that gave me more time to edit my lyrics and really be more mindful with them.”

The songwriting process for In the Magic Hour coincided with the death of O’Donovan’s grandfather, at age 93. The O’Donovan family patriarch, who had 27 grandchildren, was a “gentle soul,” says the Boston-raised Aoife, who spent magical childhood summers in the small Irish village of Clonakilty where he lived. The lyrics on In the Magic Hour are infused with a sense of mortality’s dark certainty, but also the light, shimmering memories of youth. Aunts, uncles and many of those 27 grandchildren would gather at the Clonakilty seaside to swim in the chilly ocean and sing together in the lingering Irish summer twilight.

“In my memory it was sunny every day,” O’Donovan says. “Although that definitely cannot be true.”

The result of O’Donovan’s days of solitude is a 10-song album full of the singer’s honeyed vocals mixed with gauzy, impressionistic sounds: splashing cymbals, airy harmonies, the leisurely baritone musings of an electric guitar.

O’Donovan had not yet performed many of the songs on In the Magic Hour live before arranging and recording them over the course of three sessions in Tucker Martine’s (The Decemberists, Neko Case) Portland, OR studio.

“The whole recording process was really Tucker [Martine] and me taking these songs and building them from the ground up,” O’Donovan says. The result feels like a discovery, with the freshness of the material intact.

While In the Magic Hour rekindles the creative partnership with Grammy-nomiated producer Martine, the album also highlights the fruits of O’Donovan’s various career collaborations. Composer Gabriel Kahane, New York’s string quartet Brooklyn Rider and musician Chris Thile each lend musical and vocal support, as well as I’m With Her band mates Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz, plus many more.

Throughout In the Magic Hour, O’Donovan’s grandfather flits in and out like a beloved specter. His voice appears in the mournful “Donal Óg,” tremulous and faraway. And the transcendent “Magpie,” named for Ireland’s ubiquitous bird, was written for him. O’Donovan says she has always been intrigued by birds.

“There are flocks, but you often see just one solo bird,” O’Donovan says. “And I really like that they’re these creatures that have the whole sky at their disposal. You can be a loner, or you can be at the front of the V.”

Flight is an enduring theme throughout In the Magic Hour, which takes much of its inspiration from O’Donovan’s itinerant lifestyle. But she finds herself reaching, again and again, for something more substantial. The songs on In the Magic Hour are like specks of dust floating in the tall arches of a cathedral, privy to the endless rituals of life and death and stirred occasionally by the flutter of pigeon wings. Graceful and light, they search, softly, for a place to rest.

Evie Ladin

The polyrhythmic heat of Evie Ladin's clawhammer banjo, resonant voice, real stories and rhythmic dance - have been heard from A Prairie Home Companion to Celtic Connections, Lincoln Center to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Known as a driving force behind San Francisco's Stairwell Sisters, Evie's solo debut Float Downstream (2010), co-produced by Mike Marshall and Keith Terry, was quickly followed by Evie Ladin Band (2012), nominated for Americana Album of the Year by the Independent Music Awards.

Evie Ladin is a natural entertainer with a gift for infusing folk practices with contemporary verve.
--SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

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