Four years back and forth from NYC and we are still making discoveries.
I always try to get tickets to a show or two in advance of our visits. We have an entire drawer full of ticket stubs from Broadway and off-Broadway plays. This past trip, guessing (correctly) that the weather might be a factor, I looked for entertainment options close to home, and lucky for us, Lincoln Center is right in our back yard. And side yard, if you consider the treasure that is Jazz at Lincoln Center, with a beehive of venues located in the Time-Warner Center.
Among JALC’s many offerings is “American Songbook”, an inclusive catch-all heading for performers of country, rock, bluegrass and jazz. I perused the calendar and bought tickets to an upcoming performance by a young singer I’d never heard of and whose name I could not pronounce: one Aoife O’Donovan.
Turns out I’ve been living under some rock, musically, at least. Ms. O’Donovan (I looked her up and the pronunciation of her first name is more or less “Eef-ah”, I think) hails from Boston where she is a well-known performer, graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music, and has toured with various folk/alternative bluegrass groups including Crooked Still and Sometymes Why. Granted, those groups may not be household names, but this young woman’s arc seems to be ascending: her song “Lay My Burden Down” was recorded by Alison Krauss, and Ms. O’Donovan recently toured with Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion. According to her Wikipedia entry, she has had songs placed on the television shows True Blood and Private Practice.
It seems she has long been the real deal as far as her singer/songwriter credentials and now appears to be stepping forward into the spotlight as a performer.
We saw her at JALC’s Allen Room (recently re-christened Appel Room) where our “just something to do tonight” expectations rapidly changed to “best performance we’ve seen this trip”. O’Donovan was nothing short of enchanting! Polished and professional but not overly slick, she was shyly charming in her interactions with the audience and musically generous with her on-stage colleagues, who included brothers Colin and Eric Jacobsen and a transcendent Christina Courtin on viola and vocals. The spontaneity and energy and wonder and joy on that stage made me remember why live performance is such a gift in a world of downloads.
O’Donovan was earnest and winsome. She confided that a recent review had criticized her for smiling so much during her performance but the admonishment clearly had not led her to suppress her joy in performing. Some of the songs she sang catalogued grief, but her spirit was soaring. Maybe some of it was the magical setting of the Allen Room: the stage is backed by floor-to-ceiling glass overlooking a night-lit Columbus Circle.
My favorite song of her set was “Pretty Bird Fly”. She also performed Red & White & Blue & Gold, a country-leaning tune from her “Fossils” album, and a lovely tune called “Oh, Mama”.
It was her encore, however, that earned her a permanent place in my heart. Responding to warm applause at the end of her set, she returned to the stage and commented that a performance for what is called “American Songbook” wouldn’t be complete without something from (my favorite!) Joni Mitchell. Mitchell is Canadian, of course, but she crossed over to our border from Saskatchewan long, long ago. O’Donovan’s cover of “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio” was fresh and original. Here is a YouTube clip of her singing it at a different performance:
O’Donovan currently lives in Brooklyn, so hopefully we will have other chances to see her performing around the city. We noticed that Steve Martin was in the audience that night – I’m crossing my fingers in hopes for a collaboration between the two!