Aoife O’Donovan finds hope in ‘Age of Apathy’

Aoife O’Donovan has made a career out of collaborating.

The Boston-born singer’s resume includes fronting string band Crooked Still, co-founder I’m with Her with Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz, and work with Boston Pops, “A Prairie Home Companion” and Yo-Yo Ma’s “The Goat Rodeo Sessions ”(And on lots of other projects).

“I’m used to collaborating with people, and collaborating personally, making music with people has fed my soul,” O’Donovan told the Herald from his new home in central Florida.

During 2021, it was not an option. But O’Donovan felt ready to make his third solo album.

On January 21, O’Donovan releases “Age of Apathy,” a kind of song cycle that carries the listener through our collective emotional journey over the past year (don’t worry, it ends with a lyrical and melodic outburst of brightness).

Aoife O’Donovan’s new collection of songs, ‘Age of Apathy’, will be released on January 21st. (Photo courtesy of Yep Roc Records)

O’Donovan tracked her vocals, guitar and keyboards with engineer Darren Schneider at Full Sail Studios in Winter Park, Florida. Joe Henry produced externally from Maine. Guest musicians shipped their parts from Nashville, California, New York and elsewhere.

“This record is like a snapshot of the time of making it with Joe Henry, where his unmistakable sound and spirit runs through the record,” O’Donovan said. “All his musicians played on it, but in these strange ways, it would not have sounded the same if we were in the same room together and gave each other instant feedback.”

O’Donovan has a deeply organic sound. Her roots in Celtic folk and bluegrass continue to inform her style. None of the trademark warmth or winter mystery has been lost on “Age of Apathy”.

“It sounds a bit like a band,” she said. “It feels very tight, and I look back and wonder, ‘How did we not all do it?'”

The 11 tracks came out of a move from New York to Florida (where her husband conducts the Orlando Philharmonic) during the height of the pandemic. Pain, small pleasures, and lots of introspection filled the songs O’Donovan wrote.

“Given the situation we are in as a planet, there are so many things to think about, so many things to work through as a songwriter,” she said. “When I was working on this record, I was trying to grab the shards of glass from all that was broken (pronounced) around us and reuse them for something beautiful.”

The record ends with “Passengers”. It’s a tender tribute to optimism and lifts the entire LP up and out into space to look back at the earth, in all its magic.

“I don’t think it’s a downtempo record, there are a lot of ups and downs in it, and so ‘Passengers’ always felt like the end for me,” she said. “I thought a lot about the order of this record. As a writer, I hope the listener experiences this journey, and at the end of it, you have arrived at ‘Passengers’.”

“It’s a song of hope,” she added.

And that’s hopefully how O’Donovan feels about spring (with, again, hopefully a tour that brings her home).

“As apathetic as we may be at this point, as desolate as it seems, I think ‘Passengers’ is there to offer a catharsis,” she said. “It’s important that we remind ourselves that there is so much beauty in the world.”

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