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O'Donovan changes with time, voice doesn't

The Sinclair, Cambridge, Mass., April 13, 2016

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Other recent concert reviews
Aoife O'Donovan hadn't had her own album in just about 2 years until "In the Magic Hour" dropped in January. With "Fossils" in the rear view mirror, that's an eternity in the music business.

But with a bunch of touring under her belt since then, O'Donovan returned to her hometown roots (she grew up a stone's throw away) and a very familiar crowd to dish out almost all of her new material.

O'Donovan is far less roots/bluegrass sounding these days, and this show accentuated the passage of musical style with a harder-edged sound thanks to electric guitar and drums.

That was underscored by the presence of drummer, Steven Nistor, and electric guitarist, Anthony De Costa, who veered towards more atmospheric sounds at times, coloring the songs. Nistor tended to be more forceful on the skins. For those expecting a typically quieter affair and perhaps a more spare, acoustic-based sound from O'Donovan, that wasn't the case on this night due to her reconfiguring the songs. Yet, a front porch lilt to "Oh, Mama" ended the regular portion on a high note. More of that would have been more welcome as that has been what separated O'Donovan from the pack.

Yes, there was most definitely some of the more familiar O'Donovan sounds, particularly when she went solo to turn in her reading of Joni Mitchell's "You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio."

Demonstrated by that song and elsewhere throughout the 70 minutes was the fact that O'Donovan utilized her pretty, sometimes ethereal voice to her benefit more than ever. At times, even in smaller venues, her voice seemed to get lost in the shuffle, but not on this night. Her vocal presentation has improved over time - expressive and more forceful, a good thing.

Curiously, O'Donovan distanced herself from her fans. Now in most cases, the artist would be front and center. Due to recording the show and wanting less drums and fan noise in the mix (unless you believe O'Donovan when she said she wanted to be the "queen." Somehow she doesn't exactly off as self-indulgent royalty), O'Donovan planted herself in the middle of the stage, but far towards the back on a platform.

Yet, O'Donovan did not play the shy wallflower. She certainly engaged the crowd, easily commenting and recalling her time here. She lamented the fact that her anti-hoarding mother sold her Newton North High School track sweatshirt, which she saw in a posting on social media of the new owner wearing it (in fact, he was at the concert and proudly wore the sweatshirt) in a humorous moment.

O'Donovan's still running, by the way, as she wrote one of her new songs, "Stanley Park," while hitting the road in Vancouver.

Time has changed O'Donovan musically, but her voice remains thankfully quite intact and better than ever.