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Alison O' Donnell - Exotic Masks and Sensible Shoes

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 21 / 9 / 2019

Alison O' Donnell - Exotic Masks and Sensible Shoes
Label: Freeworld Records
Format: CD


Stunning collection of modern day folk songs on what is just the third solo album from 1960’s folk legend Alison O’Donnell

It’s almost unbelievable that ‘Exotic Masks And Sensible Shoes’ is only the third album to be released under Alison O’Donnell’s name. An innovator from the beginning of her musical career, O’Donnell began her musical journey in 1968, being only sixteen years old when, as part of Mellow Candle, she released her first single. That band’s sole album, ‘Swaddling Songs’ released on the Deram label is now highly collectable. But O’Donnell has been active musically. especially over the last decade or so. Apart from her exceptional vocals gracing various albums as a guest vocalist O’Donnell has been busy with the Owl Service and United Bible Studies. There was also a recent reissue of the Fibbertgibbet album she provided vocals on. Although O’Donnell has travelled many different paths musically the sound she created on her previous two albums and her more recent collaborations have found her associated with the weird folk genre. While that’s a convenient place to start, there’s so much more to O’Donnell’s solo work than that description can offer. Despite O’Donnell’s previous two solo albums, 2010’s ‘Hey, Hey Hippy Witch’ and 2017’s ‘Climb Sheer the Fields of Peace’, showing an artist who has lost none of her vocal power and who also had the ability to make her music appeal to an audience who would normally give music loosely tagged folk a wide berth, this latest set of songs must rank among the best we have so far heard from O’Donnell. While backed superbly by a number of musicians led by pianist Kevin Scott and multi-instrumentalist David Colohan, the main instrument throughout the album is O’Donnell’s remarkable voice. And an amazing instrument it still is; although the dozen songs here are all of a high standard it’s that voice that steals the song every time. For us old ‘uns who can just about remember when O’Donnell and her contemporaries started out in music and who have our own idea of what ‘folk’ music is, O’Donnell is doing more than most to keep that genre alive and relevant by not losing sight of the original sound while really pushing boundaries musically. The setting and arrangement of these songs is staggering. The track ‘The Floppy Ears I Love So Much’, an ode to family pets, is simply stunning. O’Donnell’s voice is accompanied by just Scott’s piano and distant lap steel from Graeme Lockett and sends shivers down the spine as it’s so beautiful and chilling at the same time. It’s a church-like performance that can’t fail to affect those who hear it and stop them in their tracks. It’s a truly breathtaking performance. The opening song, ‘Girl of the House’, immediately gives notice that O’Donnell is still an exceptional, expressive singer. The otherworldly backing from Jack Cawley on guitar, Scott playing harpsichord and Colohan’s moog highlight the ghostly but beautiful vocal performance from O’Donnell. The opening lines are “Bodies in the kitchen garden/Dig the hole ourselves/For the stench I beg your pardon/The old sod is overwhelmed” are at odds with such a beautiful backing but it makes for compelling listening mainly because of that voice. O’Donnell covers a lot of ground musically on this album. There are even touches of gospel and musicals sometimes combined into one song as in ‘Oh, Father Who Is Not Holy’; it appears that all the vocals on this track (and the whole album) are from O’Donnell, and they are simply breathtaking. Comparisons are futile; O’Donnell has always followed her own path and is continuing to do so with excellent results. Lyrically every song has its own tale to tell and much could be written about each song but it’s those vocals that will touch the listener first. Subsequent playing reveals that the songs are much deeper than they originally seem due to being blown away by that voice initially. We can only hope that O’Donnell continues releasing solo albums, alongside her various other projects because right now she is making some of the best music of her long and varied career. Floating World Records have released the album on CD only for now it appears. With a stunning cover to match the music it’s crying out for a vinyl issue. Another one for the special shelf…

Track Listing:-
1 Girl Of The House
2 The Stag and The Hen
3 Sing Like His Brother
4 Breaking Soul
5 In The Land Of Persepolis
6 The Owl Of Saint-Chartier
7 Listening To Aimee
8 Oh Father Who Is Not Holy
9 Hark The Mission Herald
10 The Floppy Ears I Love So Much
11 Saint Begnet of Thorn Island
12 When Magpies Squabble

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Interview (2017)
Alison O' Donnell - Interview
Alison O'Donnell, the former front woman with 1960's/1970's pioneering folk outfit Mellow Candle, speaks to Malcolm Carter about her forthcoming second solo album,‘Climb Sheer The Fields Of Peace’


Profile (2020)
Alison O' Donnell - Profile
Malcolm Carter examines folk legend Alison O'Donnell's two new digital releases, a compilation of her 50-year career in music and a new set of songs with Head South By Weaving.

digital downloads




Climb Sheer The Fields Of Peace (2017)
Mellow Candle founder Alison O’Donnell’s new album is a collaboration with David Colohan of United Bible Studies but offers much more than its folk and electronica tag might suggest
Hey Hey Hippy Witch (2010)

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