SXSW 2016: Aoife O’Donovan, a voice made for a church gig

Many artists who play acoustically at South by Southwest have come to realize in recent years that the downtown churches St. David’s and Central Presbyterian may be the events best venues for getting their music across to an audience. Thursday evening, Aoife O’Donovan was a perfect fit for St. David’s Historic Sanctuary, her soaring voice finding a home in the spacious room with high ceilings.

Aoife O'Donovan at St. David's Historic Sanctuary for SXSW, Thursday, March 17, 2016. Photo by Peter Blackstock
Aoife O’Donovan at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary for SXSW, Thursday, March 17, 2016. Photo by Peter Blackstock

Formerly with the Boston string band Crooked Still, O’Donovan went solo a few years ago with the debut album “Fossils” and recently followed it up with “In the Magic Hour.” Backed by Austin guitarist Anthony da Costa and drummer Steve Nistor, O’Donovan wove spells that floated over the pews on tracks from the new album such as “Stanley Park,” “Porch Light” and “Hornets.”

She also went back to 2013’s “Fossils” for the sing-along-styled track “Oh, Mama,” a comparatively straightforward tune by O’Donovan’s adventurous standards. But she pulled out all the stop’s on the new album’s closing track “Jupiter,” as the atmospheric fills of her bandmates and her masterful melodic turns kept the audience mesmerized.

You could hear an under-the-breath “Wow” from someone in a pew in the back as she reached the song’s end. Everyone was feeling that, as the subsequent standing ovation from many in the crowd attested.

Author: Peter Blackstock

Music writer for the Austin American-Statesman and austin360.com. Twitter: @Blackstock360

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