Album Review: Aofie O’Donovan – In The Magic Hour

Album artwork for In The Magic Hour, photo by American Songwriter

Album artwork for In The Magic Hour, photo by American Songwriter

“In the magic hour…” sounds like the beginning of a fairy tail, or the beginning of instructions to a witch’s spell. Aofie (pronounced “EE-fah”) O’ Donovan’s Jan. 22 release certainly calls to mind the whimsy of these childish fantasies. As a stage and screen student who has taken a whopping one cinematography class, I know that the magic hour is when the lighting is just right, in the handful of moments after a sunrise and before a sunset. The magic hour makes everything look warm and beautiful. It makes anything seem possible. Aofie O’Donovan’s magic hour  is the transition from playful childhood to simultaneously freeing and sobering adulthood.

Aofie O’Donovan is a folk/Americana singer and songwriter from Newton, Massachusetts. Though solo for the most part now, she was a founding member of Crooked Still in 2004, and has been on the music scene since. Her debut solo release, Fossils, came in 2013 and explored the notion of memories. She dabbles in collaborations with many well-known musicians, including a recent project called “I’m With Her.” This endeavor joins O’Donovan with  Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek fame) and Sarah Jarosz, fellow songwriters who also branch off of the Allison Krauss tree of soft, folky ballads. An album is expected from the trio later this year or early next year.

In the Magic Hour is about the sweet freedom of being alone, and the bitter emptiness of being lonely. “Where are my friends, where are my friends?” she sings in “Stanley Park.” It deals with the longing for a childhood filled with love and family, and resistance against imminent mortality. The theme of death rooted from her grandfather’s own death in early 2015. O’Donovan had already started working on nostalgia-tinged lyrics when he passed.

“In my memory it was sunny everyday,” O’Donovan told No Depression of childhood summers spent at her grandfather’s house in Clonakilty, Ireland. O’Donovan’s affinity for both her grandfather and Ireland can be felt all over the album. “Donal Óg,” features her grandfather’s eerie and endearing Irish accent reading a sort of rhythmic poem. It is immediately followed by the sorrowful violin introduction of the next track, “The King of All the Birds.”

In the Magic Hour has an element of lyrical stream of consciousness, and it’s easy to get lost in the atmospheric lullaby feel of the whole thing. It flows beautifully from the more upbeat tunes like “Magic Hour,” to a sort of dip into sadness with “Not The Leaving,” and ends on a hopeful note with “Detour Sign” and “Jupiter.”

“… I hope people listen to it in one go,” said O’Donovan. I completely agree with that hope. In The Magic Hour, as an album, is a story, and should be consumed on its first listen like a novel, from start to finish.