Tweets by @yeproc


Aoife O’Donovan – All My Friends

In 1916, Carrie Chapman Catt declared to a crowd of women’s suffragists that the world was in crisis – and it was time to turn that crisis into victory. “The Woman’s Hour has struck,” she announced. In All My Friends, the new album from Aoife O’Donovan, her message is amplified until it reverberates into a new millennium. While O’Donovan has never considered herself a political songwriter, her new album testifies to her belief in the power of the vote. “We are so lucky to live in a democracy,” says O’Donovan, “and we have to participate in it. Just like stopping at a red light or being a good neighbor, voting is our responsibility as citizens.”

The nine tracks on All My Friends build a rich, expansive sound upon the singer-songwriter’s harmonious and contemplative trademark style. Conceived and recorded as an orchestral venture, the album’s ambitious scale and anthemic quality reflects its themes, with songs inspired by the life and mission of Chapman Catt, whose work O’Donovan discovered in 2019. A commission to celebrate the centenary of the 19th amendment, which first granted American women the right to vote, led O’Donovan to Chapman Catt’s letters and speeches, whose words, she says, “felt timeless”. Some of the suffragist’s oratory is incorporated verbatim in the lyrics, including the evergreen question: “What is the democracy for which the world is battling?”

The album’s titular track memorializes the Tennessee summer of 1920, when voices for and against suffragism battled bitterly over the final state signatory needed to ratify the amendment. O’Donovan’s solo voice sings the first line like a clarion call, before a trumpet and trombone enter with harmonies so sonorous you could easily mistake them for additional voices. When they themselves give way to the humming of a girls’ choir, the stage is shimmeringly set: we’re hearing the sound of the march that women young and old are still walking together today. The voices are those of the San Francisco Girls’ Chorus, whose singers are aged 12 to 18; O’Donovan had long wanted to work with the group, and they feature on four separate tracks. The horn section which appears throughout the album is brass quartet The Westerlies, whom the songwriter found an instant musical connection with when they shared a gig in Boston last year. 

The record’s lush landscape of strings is provided by The Knights – the chamber orchestra conducted by O’Donovan’s husband Eric Jacobsen, who co-produced the album with her. While Jacobsen has occasionally played cello at O’Donovan’s most intimate shows – “I jokingly call him my accompanist” – they had never before worked together on a major project. “We both have very busy and very different careers, so it was a cool experience to work together,” says O’Donovan, who admitted that recording with an orchestra could have been a “scary” process. “You have all these people in the room at once, it’s expensive and complex, so you need a conductor who knows the music very well. 

“But Eric is an incredible leader – and never overstepped, which I give him a lot of credit for!” O’Donovan also pays fulsome tribute to Tanner Porter who arranged the music, including the swelling segues that link the first three tracks. “She has such a vast knowledge of how to write for all these instruments, and I loved collaborating with her.” While the orchestra and brass were recorded in New York, the rest of the album was recorded, like Age of Apathy, at Full Sail University in Orlando, with the aid of engineer, album mixer and co-producer Darren Schneider.

O’Donovan has given herself license to write songs as personal as they are political – her own take on the historical fiction that she loves to read. “The Right Time”, the sparest song on the record, follows Chapman Catt on her journey from Iowa, where she was educated in a one-room schoolhouse, to San Francisco – ‘power growing, blood pulsing under thick skin’. “I love singing that song,” says O’Donovan, “because I can imagine her in this period gaining the confidence you need to become a great orator, and I can admire her strength from afar.”

“War Measure” puts a contemporary spin on President Woodrow Wilson’s letter of support to Chapman Catt – “I got your missive and I’m with you girl” – while songs like “Someone To Follow” and “Daughters” meld the suffragists’ experiences with O’Donovan’s own, identifying echoes of their movement in the continuing struggle for women’s rights all over the world. “I thought about motherhood a lot more than on previous records,” says O’Donovan, whose own daughter, Ivy Jo, has just started kindergarten. For her, the album is intrinsically linked to 2022’s release, the three-time Grammy nominated Age of Apathy – a response to that state-of-the-digital-age work which encourages an urgent and active hope in future generations. “I know whichever way the wind blows you’re going to make it,” she sings in “Someone To Follow”.

That song includes the banjo picking of Noam Pikelny – “he has this specific banjo that I knew would sound gorgeous in that key” – and the other guest appearances are no less precisely chosen. On “Crisis”, Sierra Hull’s mandolin provides deft interplay with the strings, while Anaïs Mitchell, a friend of O’Donovan’s for over 20 years, adds her singular vocals to “Over the Finish Line”. “It’s not necessarily a voice you’d often hear as a harmony singer!” admits O’Donovan of their featured duet. “But I’ve been struck with her recent collaborations with Bonny Light Horsemen and Big Red Machine, and it works so well on this song.”

Plans to perform All My Friends in concert include O’Donovan’s Barbican Hall debut on Tuesday 18 June, with Jacobsen conducting the Guildhall Session Orchestra and Music Centre London Session Choir. There will also be different touring configurations including acoustic shows and an upcoming collaboration with the band Hawktail. 

In a Presidential election year, O’Donovan’s record is a cry to women to reclaim their voice, and their rights. “Once in a lifetime the power is ours,” she sings in “Over The Finish Line”, “but we’d rather stare at our phones.” As Chapman Catt once put it: are we prepared to grasp the victory?

Emma John

On Tour:




Yep Roc Discography: