O'Donovan grew up in Newton, Massachusetts. Her parents were both musicians, and her father was the host of a Celtic music program in Boston. While in high school, she spent her summers studying traditional Celtic music and dance in Ireland. O'Donovan attended the New England Conservatory of Music and graduated in 2003. While there she studied contemporary improvisation. She also dreamed of recording her own album, and came up with a short list of producers.
In 2001, O'Donovan was a founding member of Crooked Still. In 2003, she performed and recorded as part of the Wayfaring Strangers with Matt Glaser, Tony Trishka, Jamey Haddad, Jim Whitney, Andy Statman, and John McGann, as well as two other female lead singers: Tracy Bonham and future musical partner Ruth Ungar. In 2005 she formed Sometymes Why, the quirky "folk noir" trio with Ungar and Kristin Andreassen; they've recorded two albums.
Meanwhile, after five studio offerings and a live album, along with international touring, Crooked Still went on an extended -- though reportedly temporary -- hiatus in 2011 so the bandmembers could pursue individual projects. During the group's break, O'Donovan made good on her dream: she signed to Yep-Roc and cut her debut album, Fossils, with Tucker Martine as producer; he was at the top of her college short list. The record was issued in June of 2013. O'Donovan toured relentlessly in support of the recording, headlining club gigs and playing music festivals internationally, and also assisted on the New York chamber's ensemble Brooklyn Rider's Almanac album. While performing at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival the following year, she, Sara Watkins, and Sarah Jarosz delivered an impromptu performance as I'm with Her. After an enthusiastic reception by the audience, the trio took their show on the road as a formal band.
After the death of her 93-year-old grandfather, she experienced ten days of solitude, during which she worked on editing and writing new songs. In early 2015, she entered Martine's studio in Portland, Oregon, to begin working on her sophomore album. Much of her new material had yet to be performed. Over three marathon sessions, the pair built the recording from the ground up; they enlisted contributions from Jarosz, Sara Watkins, Gabriel Kahane, Thile, and Brooklyn Rider. Entitled In the Magic Hour, it was released in January of 2016. That summer, she and Jarosz were named to the newly formed house band for A Prairie Home Companion under Thile, who took over hosting duties for the retiring Garrison Keillor. In September, O'Donovan released Man in a Neon Coat: Live from Cambridge, leading a trio with Anthony da Costa on electric guitar and Steve Nistor on drums. In 2018, after being seasoned by extensive touring, the I'm with Her band recorded and released its debut long-player for Rounder. Entitled See You Around, it won a Grammy for Best American Roots performance at the following year's ceremony.
Back in 2015, O'Donovan, violinist and composer Jeremy Kittel, and conductor Teddy Abrams were commissioned to create a new piece of music for Oregon’s Britt Music and Arts Festival. While researching the project, O'Donovan encountered the work of Oregon's poet laureate Peter Sears. His poems would provide the lyrics for the orchestral suite Bull Frogs Croon. Sears attended the premiere performance of these songs in 2015. While he passed on in 2017, O'Donovan and Kittel remained committed to the work. In 2019, O’Donovan elected to record the material with an elemental string quartet consisting of violinists Kittel and Brittany Haas, violist Mario Gotoh, and bassist Paul Kowert. In addition to the three new compositions based on Sears' poems, an EP -- co-produced by O'Donovan and Kittel -- also included fresh takes of two songs that had long been part of her repertoire: the Irish folk song "Lakes of Pontchartrain" and Hazel Dickens' "Pretty Bird." Bull Frogs Croon (And Other Songs) was released in March of 2020.
~ Thom Jurek, Rovi
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