E.P. Review: Aoife O’Donovan – In the Magic Hour Solo Sessions

After touring with the collective I’m With Her for most of the last couple of years Aoife O’Donovan is now back as a solo artist releasing her new acoustic E.P. ‘In the Magic Hour Solo Sessions’. As suggested by the title four of these songs are versions of tracks from her last solo album ‘In the Magic Hour’ which was released in 2016 and she also adds a couple of well chosen cover songs to the track-listing.

There seems to be a recent trend of artists releasing acoustic EPs of songs, like we saw with Ashley Monroe earlier this year, not to mention artists re-recording entire albums like St Vincent etc. In some cases this is to more accurately represent how the songs were initially written or how they will be sung live, especially for artists who tour solo now due to financial reasons. Or it could just be to allow the listener to focus more songwriting and the voice, rather than the production. A more cynical take might be that in the age of streaming services, recording acoustic versions of songs allows you to be included in a wider variety of playlists. Cover versions certainly get a lot of streams too, so it seems quite an easy thing for artists to record acoustic covers that they would play live in order to maximise their exposure.

In general EPs are also used as stop gaps between albums and it seems like a sensible way to generate continued attention and listeners. In this digital age you almost can’t afford to disappear for years because there’s such a volume of available music out there your listeners could easily forget about you. For O’Donovan’s this EP works as a nice transition between I’m With Her and her future solo career. By recording new versions of her old songs she is able to remind us about the gems in her back catalogue or indeed introduce them to new fans.

The EP begins with Magic Hour itself – a song which weaves stories about the beauty of life, aging and death. In this stripped back, intimate version her impressive vocal talent shines for all to hear. The King of All Birds continues with the nature theme, referencing the moon too but using these images to describe herself and the fickle nature of love. Loneliness is captured with poignant precision in Stanley Park, a story song of a drifter who freezes to death and dreams of returning to the earth as a bird. Porch Light was a favourite of mine from the album so it is lovely to hear this new acoustic version.

The two covers chosen are total classics of the Americana songbook. First up is Springsteen’s Nebraska, which in the hands of O’Donovan sounds like a fragile piece of glass, slowly splintering as the song unfolds. Her delivery is less stark and cold than the original – the warmth in her voice just underlines the brutal reality in the words. In a complete switch of tone she then covers Joni Mitchell’s ‘You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio’ with a fun lightness of touch. Of course Mitchell is a huge influence on her style and songwriting but the distinctive quality of O’Donovan’s honeyed voice makes the song sound like her own.

In The Magic Hour Solo Session’ is a welcome reminder that Aoife O’Donovan is a sublime singer and one whose future projects we should all be listening out for. Next spring she is taking a string quartet out on tour with her – playing London on May 22nd. Don’t miss her.

Full tour dates: https://aoifeodonovan.com

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