O'Donovan is a folk singer extraordinaire 

click to enlarge After more than a decade of collaborating with a wide variety of musicians, folk singer Aoife O'Donovan has released her own album, "Fossils." - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • After more than a decade of collaborating with a wide variety of musicians, folk singer Aoife O'Donovan has released her own album, "Fossils."

Quirky New England folk warbler Aoife O'Donovan, who recently came through the Bay Area in a caravan with Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion Radio Romance Tour," is coming back.

This week, she trills along with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, bassist Edgar Meyer, mandolinist Chris Thile and fiddler Stuart Duncan, performing tracks from their genre-jumping eponymous debut on Sony Classical, "The Goat Rodeo Sessions."

Since she started singing professionally 12 years ago, she has joined and accompanied Ollabelle, Crooked Still, Sometymes Why, Jerry Douglas, The Milk Carton Kids, even the Boston Pops Orchestra — and a huge list of others.

O'Donovan (first name pronounced EEF-ah) laughs when asked whether she has an agent pitching her talent throughout the music industry.

"All of my accolades I guess have been through word of mouth. I love to sing, and I think people just know that," she says. "And if you hire me, I'll show up and I'll do a good job, and I'll smile while I'm doing it. Or maybe it comes from not pushing myself too hard. I don't even have a business card, because nobody in New York does. When you meet someone in New York, they're like, 'Don't worry, I'll find you.'"

When it came to solo albums, though, it was beginning to look like the lady was always a bridesmaid, never a bride. An apt analogy, she says, "Because I have been a bridesmaid many times in real life, and never once a bride, so life imitates art. But I've been a collaborator with so many people; I just never bit the bullet and did my own record. Until now, that is."

Only recently did she find the time to fly to Portland, Ore., and cut her debut, "Fossils," with red-hot producer Tucker Martine. Released in June, it was worth the wait.

The rapier-witted O'Donovan is a rabid bibliophile, and a big fan of Steinbeck, Jane Austen, Flannery O'Connor and Larry McMurtry.

Accordingly, her lyrics are quirky and literate, on the whimsical metaphor-laden cuts "Beekeeper" ("About how you must account for your actions," she says), "Fire Engine" ("About getting your ducks in a row, but keeping stuff slightly hidden"), and the Anne Sexton-inspired "Briar Rose."

The disc opens with a Southern Gothic original that listeners might recognize: "Lay My Burden Down," originally covered by Alison Krauss in 2011.

After blending into so many diverse backdrops, taking center studio stage wasn't easy for this chameleon. "I'm definitely a singer — that's my identity," she says. "So 'songwriter' was much less of an identity for me. But with Tucker, I really went for it and got my music under the microscope, and that really sealed the deal. I became a songwriter at that moment."


The Goat Rodeo Sessions

With Aoife O'Donovan, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile, Stuart Duncan

Where: Greek Theatre, 2001 Gayley Road, Berkeley

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $35 to $250

Contact: (510) 642-9988, www.calperfs.berkeley.edu

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Tom Lanham

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