O'Connell is a bit of a rarity among folk musicians in that she's not a songwriter, nor does she accompany herself on any instrument. (Though to call her "only" a singer is like calling Segovia "only" a guitar player.) Her most recent recording, the 2009 Grammy-nominated Naked With Friends, spotlights the purely vocal aspect of her work. Don't let the slightly suggestive title mislead you--it contains no bawdy or party songs. Rather, the title refers to the fact that the album features only voices, no instruments. O'Connell's instrument has aged beautifully. It is still a striking voice, retaining much of the loveliness and spectacular technique of her youth, while her ability to find and express the essence of any song she sings in a huge range of genres, from traditional Irish to contemporary country, has only grown over the years.
When she comes to the Ark on January 20 she, as convention and custom command, will be fully clothed and accompanied by a duo on bass and guitar. I'm sure they will be terrific, but I'm equally certain that it is O'Connell's voice that will keep me riveted in my seat.
[Originally published in January, 2013.]