Aoife O’Donovan at DingwallsCultureMusicLive music
“So, how’s your canal for swimming?” asks the peppy Aoife O’Donovan at Camden’s lock-side basement venue Dingwalls. “I live by the most polluted canal in New York, and they’ve built a Whole Foods over it, with a greenhouse on the roof and I’m like ‘do I wanna eat Bok Choy grown in sewage?'”
Charming, inoffensive and harmlessly funny, O’ Donovan’s introductory banter suggests the easy-listening, sickly-sweet tone of the songs to follow. O’Donovan merges the Celtic tradition of her background with the country crooning of her American upbringing, and offsets it with an adept bluegrass band. So far on her UK tour, she’s been well received at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections and on BBC2’s Transatlantic Sessions. Can O’ Donovan, with her country-gospel tunes from her solo album Fossils, set London’s haystacks burning?
On a brave note, O’Donovan kicks off with Lay My Burden Down, a track which Alison Krause put her stamp on a few years ago. Sadly, O’Donovan does little for this song that Krause hasn’t already – it’s soft, tame and non-confrontational. But O’Donovan’s inarguable pretty voice makes it a fine, The Be Good Tanyas-style piece of reclaimed gospel.
Briar Rose is O’Donovan’s own dark retelling of the Sleeping Beauty tale. In a show in which the musicians assume cheek-aching grins for the entirety, this track casts a welcome shadow into the gig’s perky vibe. Though lyrically interesting, this song is again performed in the same soft key. For a voice with as much potential as O’Donovan’s (she studied improvisation at the New England Conservatory), melodies could be much richer and more experimental.
“It’s great to be here with this crack band!” O’Donovan beams, and we have to agree – if “crack” is taken to mean calm but expert guitar solos and sharp, resounding harmonica-work from Kristan Andreason. Robin MacMillan (bass) adds a poignant whistling solo, which is pitch-perfect. “And now, a doo-et!” O’Donovan enthuses, and performs a sweet harmony with Andreason.
In this venue, O’Donovan pleases the audience – probably because she is widely enough known now that many of them are passionate fans. They are a mainly middle-aged bunch, nodding along softly. Overall, it’s rather narcotic; the kind of music used on telephone lines and in airport lounges to placate the tense and impatient. Unless O’Donovan takes more risks, both melody-wise and in her lyrics, it is doubtable that she will stand out from the tame, two-a-penny crooners of the trad-folk scene.
Photos: Francesca Capra
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Watch the video for Red & White & Blue & Gold here: