Juxtaposed against the dead of Yukon winter, Declan O’Donovan created sweet melodic tunes for his most recent album.
Buried during the long northern winter, O’Donovan sequestered himself in a log cabin with nothing but the bare necessities, a piano and his songs.
“Some people might shy away from spending a winter in the Yukon but I actually really enjoy it,” said the singer/musician who is performing at The Elite in Penticton Oct. 10. “Yukon in the winter can be a tough place to be unless you are focused on something, in which case it is a terrific place to be because you can live without distraction and really immerse yourself into whatever you are doing.”
Born and raised in Whitehorse, O’Donovan had plenty of dark winter hours to hone his craft. Moving his deft fingers along the keyboard, changing from blues and roots rock to Canadiana and back again he possesses an organic sound with a story, or two, to tell.
“There is lots going on despite how isolated and different it is. It is a place of extremes. It is dark and cold for a very large portion of the year but it is also cooking hot and late night sun throughout the summer,” he said.
It very well describes his latest effort, his first full-length studio album as a solo artist. The self-titled debut features nine original songs, with O’Donovan backed by an ensemble of Yukon’s best musicians. On a Wurlitzer piano and Hammond organs, O’Donovan took on the role as instrumentalist, vocalist, songwriter and co-producer alongside Jordy Walker. Collaborating with trumpet player Daniel Timmermans, they created several cuts on the album including the single Cheap Souvenir, a song of heartbreak. This composition won O’Donovan the Westcoast Songwriters International Songwriting Competition in the Blues Category. He was the only Canadian finalist.
“I have read that many musicians suggest they don’t write about personal experience and I don’t necessarily buy into that. One person who counters that is Bob Dylan. He made a statement once that said art comes from experience, observation and imagination,” said O’Donovan. “Those songs and the whole record are based on experience and observation absolutely, but then you put something beyond that into it.”
The piano man backs it up with a unique voice, that has notes of Dylan and has been compared to Tom Waits.
“It’s very flattering to have my voice defined as unique or however people take it in. I wouldn’t want to sound generic and that is how anyone makes an impression as a musician or artist by being original. For me it is where my voice goes naturally,” he said. “This last record I worked with a co-producer who really drew much more true to who I am and what my voice naturally does as opposed to trying to manipulated it in any way.”
Previously a part of the party-band Scotch, his solo work is a departure from that. Performing as a solo artist moving back and forth between Montreal and the Yukon, O’Donovan’s latest release is gripping with his gruff, gravelly voice and talent at the keys moving between bluesy New Orleans and quiet ballads.
O’Donovan is playing at The Elite on Oct. 10 with Carolyn Mark and Jack Grace. Mark is a Canadian alternative country singer-songwriter. She has recorded as a solo artist and as a member of the duo The Corn Sisters with U.S. colleague Neko Case.
Grace is a singer-songwriter and guitarist from Brooklyn, New York. His songs have been featured in the films Super Troopers and Beer Fest.
The show at The Elite starts at 8 p.m. and cover is $5.