In The Magic Hour
Yep Roc Records
Much as I loved Aoife O’Donovan’s debut full-lengther, Fossils, it’s almost felt like a long wait. That record still stands. It’s still majestic in the right moment but In The Magic Hour better combines the elements of her time spent with Crooked Still, and now assisting Nickel Creek and working on A Prairie Home Companion. Where Fossils was almost overly aiming for the ethereal In The Magic Hour is a better showcase in the way it allows that wonderful voice to soar one minute (Magpie) but gives grounding to it also – not to mention grit and heart and soul (Donal Og) as well as more thoroughly exploring the bridging elements of the Americana she pursues and the Celtic heritage that helped to inform aspects of that music.
Chris Thile (Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers) is on hand here with his frankly astounding facility across a dozen instruments. And Tucker Martine – behind the best album of the year, and something of a spiritual cousin to this record – manages to conjure aspects of the great Daniel Lanois sound, but keeps it earthy.
There are still those moments where this circles Alison Krauss territory – and well why not (O’Donovan has written for Krauss in the past).
Here it’s about the way so many different styles, moods and modes are so seamlessly integrated. On the opener, Stanley Park, it’s about the effortless way that O’Donovan conjures the old Celtic balladry. The voice so pure, perfect and the song’s gossamer weight falling away even as it exists, the layers unfurling. But later on the same record (The Kind of All Birds) O’Donovan is pursuing philosophical and spiritual truths inside a hard jazz-tinged country-samba. Sounds incongruous? Sure is. Beautifully so.
She’ll always return to that lovelorn sound – as on Not The Leaving – where the dusty scrape of a swinging door and person looking down at their shoes is evoked, where country balladry with a Celtic hue pervades, where that voice – gorgeous, sumptuous – makes you forget almost anything else in the world; transports you.
In The Magic Hour is a title that describes the very space created where these songs hang, where they occupy a wee aspect of the universal soul.
And were it not for that other Midas-touched Tucker Martine record (case / lang / veirs) this might nudge in towards album of the year. It gets close as it is. And you know it will linger, possibly longer than the superstar trio’s similarly wonderful set of songs.