Aoife Addresses Apathy… and Affirmation
Aoife O’Donovan has come a long way from her first recording as a member of the folk-bluegrass band, The Wayfaring Strangers, with stops as lead singer of Boston-based Crooked Still, collaborations with Chris Thile and other genre-busters, a series of critically-acclaimed solo albums, and her most recent Grammy-winning trio, I’m With Her, with fellow singer-songwriters Sarah Jarosz and Sara Watkins. Now there’s her most accomplished album to date in the paradoxically titled Age of Apathy.
In many ways the new album, which O’Donovan will be featuring in her band’s return to the Lobero on April 12, was sparked as much by the outdoor environment following her family’s move to central Florida as by reflecting on her inner world during the pandemic. “There’s just so much natural beauty there, like a wild jungle with gorgeous, lush greenery, rivers you can kayak, and mountains you can see from my house,” she said. “It’s an incredibly diverse ecosystem and that is definitely showing up in the music.”
But Age of Apathy also accesses a touchpoint in O’Donovan’s life journey, she said, one that needed to come out in her writing. “I’m almost 40 and that’s when you look back and it really feels like the end of an era, like my young adult is on the precipice of middle-aged. I have a home, a husband, and a child. How does that play into the essence of me? What do you want from yourself?”
Hence the enigma of the album’s title, which collects songs that are at once intimate and worldly, rooted in the earth but also spiritual, considering the past but also imagining the future. The musical settings reflect the dichotomy with the folk base peppered with angular chord progressions and surprises in the melodies. “There’s so much out there in the world that’s bad news and then COVID and the result eventually leads to apathy because how much can you really absorb,” she explained. “I mean, what can any of us actually do?”
O’Donovan, of course, answers her own questions over the course of the songs on the album, which is truly a journey rather than a random collection of songs. “My apathy is losing ground/Open my mouth, make a sound,” she sings on the record’s penultimate track “Passengers.”
“That’s the crucial line on the album because it’s about making it to the other side, whether I’m on the ground or in a dream,” she said. “We all need to find that place where we can let go of sadness and despair. I’m really trying to find joy in music and my family and friendships and musical collaborations. That’s definitely the only way out for me.”