Aoife O’Donovan’s Songs Poured Out When Touring Shut Down

Aoife O’Donovan’s Songs Poured Out When Touring Shut Down

The process took most of a year. “It allowed me and Aoife the opportunity to really listen to each element as it came in,” Henry said from his home in Maine. “And to decide, you know, do we need more? How much farther do we take this?”

Amazingly enough, the resulting album sounds cohesive and intuitive. “It does feel very collaborative, but it also feels just bizarre and futuristic,” O’Donovan said.

For O’Donovan, “Age of Apathy” is her most personal album. Unlike her other solo albums, it’s full of specifics: a bus route, a highway, the sense of a historical moment. “I’ve never really written so literally before,” she added. “In the past, I would shade it in a way that would try to make it a little bit more universal. But all these things really did happen.”

In the title song, O’Donovan mentions the Taconic Parkway, which runs into upstate New York, and continues, “Go east on 23, past the farms and the festival memories.” She’s citing the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in Hillsdale, N.Y., along Route 23 at the foot of the Berkshires, where Crooked Still found its first eager audience of folk listeners and the band sold a miraculous 1,000 independent CDs, kick-starting its career. The song also recalls her going to a vigil at the Christian Science Center in Boston a few days after the 2001 World Trade Center attacks and wondering, “Was it the end or the beginning?/All I remember is the singing and the music, trying to drive away the fear.”

The album’s centerpiece, O’Donovan said, is “Elevators,” a brisk waltz that sometimes skips a beat, as if it can’t wait to leap ahead. O’Donovan sings about “this big experience of being a touring musician, the kind of amnesia that you get when you’re on tour, the comfort of having no idea where you are, and yet knowing exactly where you are,” she said. “Is it going to go back to this? Am I going to be back there saying like, where am I? Who is that person running out the door? Is that me? Is that just my ghost of tours past?”

O’Donovan’s personal touchstones are swept into the mood of the album: pensive, determined, ambivalently and then determinedly hopeful. “Age of Apathy” ends with “Passengers,” a quick-strummed, major-key song that glances back toward Joni Mitchell. It imagines a journey through interplanetary space: a way forward, post-pandemic, post-uncertainty, happily in motion again.

“Music is everything to me — it’s literally the most important thing,” she said. “When I think about where do I want my life to go, where do I want to be when I’m older, what’s going to happen after we die — the music is the thing that will get us through to the end. And music is what will be there after we’re gone.”

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