Weaving topical banter about the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the importance of voting and the eventual return of live music with songs from across her career, Aoife O’Donovan creates a sonic tapestry of the pandemic year on Live from the Church of the Sacred Heart.
Capturing her Sept. 20, 2020, livestream from New York, the digital LP is recorded in such a way to channel the ambiance of the space where Jackie Kennedy once worshipped.
“It’s not a church anymore,” O’Donovan says early on. “But it’s a church today.”
Filling the empty hall with acoustic guitar, piano and voice, O’Donovan revisits Crooked Still on “Ain’t No Grave,” Sometymes Why with “Clover” and I’m With Her on “Ryland (Under the Apple Tree),” while focusing mostly on her solo output and covers such as Hiss Golden Messenger’s “Father Sky.”
These renditions, 15 songs in all, are delicate, O’Donovan‘s fragile-yet-resilient vocals delivering lyrics that are alternatively yearning, beguiling, sultry and searching. Slight tweaks in arrangement and phrasing make these versions super-appealing even to people who’ve heard many takes of the songs, which include “Red and White and Blue and Gold,” “Lay My Burden Down,” dedicated to Ginsburg, and “Oh Mama.”
Whether it was her goal or just a happy accident, O’Donovan’s created a terrific document of pandemic-era music making where the silence after songs waits to be filled with applause and venues look forward to welcoming back fans and the artists they follow.