Album Review: Aoife O’Donovan, ‘All My Friends’

Layers of swelling harmonies and soaring instrumentals shimmer through Aoife O’Donovan’s new album All My Friends. Lush orchestration spaciously unfurls and flows beneath O’Donovan’s crystalline vocals as she delivers a remembrance and tribute to the suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt in this poignant song-cycle.

In 2019, as part of a commission to celebrate the centenary of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote, O’Donovan discovered the letters and speeches of Chapman Catt. Chapman Catt’s words inspired O’Donovan to write songs that both celebrated the suffragist’s vision and tenacity and that carried her wisdom about the nature of democracy, community, and women’s rights into our own day.

The title track opens with O’Donovan’s lilting solo voice; the tendrils of a trumpet and trombone wrap themselves around O’Donovan’s vocals, layering down an ethereal harmony. The dazzling harmonies of the San Francisco Girls’ Chorus add texture as the song evokes the gathering of a community of women to march for women’s rights, just as Chapman Catt did in Tennessee in the summer of 1920.

“All My Friends” slides sonically into “Crisis,” a Joni Mitchell-esque jazz symphony that captures the struggle that Chapman Catt faced in 1916 around suffrage, and Sierra Hull’s silvery mandolin picking on the instrumental bridge breaks like blue sky through stormy clouds. The crescendo of “Crisis” tumbles seamlessly into “War Measure,” a shuffling ode to Woodrow Wilson’s support for Chapman Catt and suffrage. Snappy snare rolls open the quietly tender “Someone to Follow,” featuring Noam Pikelny’s lilting banjo and Rob Burger on shimmering accordion, which ponders Chapman Catt’s life prior to her suffragism as O’Donovan meditates on her daughter’s own future. The quietly moving “Daughters” takes up the same theme.

With its syncopated rhythms, the spare “The Right Time” mimics Chapman Catt’s movement from Iowa to San Francisco, while O’Donovan incorporates Chapman Catt’s own words—”What is the democracy for which the world is battling, for which we offer up our man power, woman power, money power, our all?”—in the swirling, atmospheric “America, Come.” The spacious and poignant “Over the Finish Line” features the harmonies of Anaïs Mitchell and Luke Reynolds playing call and response with O’Donovan’s vocals in an echoing and haunting song that carries the themes of the album into the current day. The album closes with O’Donovan’s achingly exquisite version of Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.”

On her new album, O’Donovan testifies to the power of the community of women to change the world around them as well as to the fragility of democracy. All My Friends dazzles in its cinematic scope and intimate warmth, and these songs provide spiritual sustenance for women who find themselves struggling with many of the same issues that Chapman Catt confronted over 100 years ago.


 All My Friends is available HERE


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