In the United Kingdom, women couldn’t open a bank account until 1975 (the same year they invented the digital camera, for context). Taking it back a few decades earlier for those of us that are ill informed, The Suffragettes were a group of women that tirelessly campaigned for the right to vote and for general equality in the late 19th and early 20th century. Carrie Chapman Catt and Emily Wilding Davison are names that should be eternally burnt into our consciousness at the ballot box, the latter even giving her life for the cause of women’s suffrage. You might ask, why dredge all this up now? Surely today, the subject of feminism is the type of thing that only the ‘woke liberal lefties’ care about, if anything gender equality has gone too far. I often hear “women have never had it so good!”

18 countries have seen gender inequality worsen since 2015. Women in Yemen can’t marry or receive health care without the permission of their spouse. 14 states in the USA, the world’s most ‘progressive’ nation, have a near total ban on abortion. The right-wing media tell me everything is fine though, remember, “women have never had it so good!”

Of course, I am speaking purely in the spirit of satire. If you can understand that then you hopefully also understand women deserve basic human rights and access to healthcare. The Suffragettes achieved what they set out to do for the most part, but there’s still a lot of work to be done before we even come close to gender equality and I firmly believe we can all do our bit to help achieve that.

The Grammy award-winning songstress and vocal titan, Aoife O’Donovan, is taking her own powerful stance on the matter in the form of her upcoming political folk record ‘All My Friends’.  The subject matter bleeds through all of the record’s impressive nine tracks, O’Donovan had a clear message in mind while crafting this unique project and her admirable passion has undoubtedly paid off.

The opening (and title) track is introduced with a sublime harmony between O’Donovan and the New York based quartet, ‘The Westerlies’. ‘All My Friends’ is a number that is so rich with strings it almost feels picturesque and would perfectly fit in a movie sequence exemplifying the uprising against oppression of any kind. ‘Crisis’ incorporates extracts from a 1916 Catt speech, which was a stroke of genius on O’Donovan’s part. The melody is structured perfectly, replicating the atmosphere of angst being expressed in its lyricism by building and then dispersing when appropriate.

The album bounces between tracks that are deeply engrained with historical references, an ode to Woodrow Wilson’s ally-ship here and further tributes to Catt there, it’s now strikingly apparent that O’Donovan is taking the torch from the likes of Lesley Gore and Tracy Chapman to light up the patriarchy in a way that folk music often shies away from.

‘Someone to Follow’ demonstrates the first instance of O’Donovan intertwining Catt’s personal life with her own experiences and showcases a wonderful addition of the banjo from Noam Pikelny. It’s also imperative to note that the transitions between tracks on this record are seamless, another indication that the project was intensely aforethought.

‘The Right Time’ is intended to examine Catt’s tireless fight with inequality whilst experiencing her own personal hardships, namely her husband’s untimely passing, although the message is universally relatable. When many of us face adversity, we often ask ourselves the same question, “when’s it my turn to catch a break?”. The melody is infectious and undeniably an earworm, it currently stands as my favourite track from ‘All My Friends’.

‘Daughters’ has a darker feel production wise, which might be a deliberate attempt from O’Donovan to exemplify her dread at imagining her own daughter fighting the injustices women deal with day to day. By the halfway point of the record, you might expect a dip in quality or for the artist to run out of steam somewhat, but this isn’t the case for Aoife O’Donovan whatsoever. In fact, tracks five and six present the most solid compositions on the entire album.

As we near the end of the project, we are pulled headfirst into the dreary reminder that is modern America. With guest vocals from Anaïs Mitchell, ‘Over The Finish Line’ feels reminiscent of O’Donovan’s prior work, her raw grief and distress oozing into the vocal layers as she painfully notes “America’s bleeding, we’re watching it die, fire and blood on the screen”.

The final addition to the record being a rendition of Bob Dylan’s ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’ initially struck me as peculiar. However, upon reflection of the album’s defiant message against oppression of all types, it actually fits quite perfectly. It also helps that O’Donovan’s soothing voice adds a whimsical quality to the song that Dylan’s vocal range doesn’t always manage to perfect.

With ‘All My Friends’, Aoife O’Donovan envisions the past, present and future through the eyes of both herself and the inspirational legions of women that came before her. The record is beautiful, poignant and excruciatingly relevant to the current social and political climate in the United States and across the globe. O’Donovan bares her unfiltered soul across nine tracks that encapsulate a time where women had to fight tirelessly against frequent injustice, unfortunately that time has yet to pass us by. Think about this record the next time you hear that “women have never had it so good”.

Aoife O’Donovan: All My Friends – Out 22nd March 2024 (Yep Roc Records)

O’Donovan – Over The Finish Line ft. Anaïs Mitchell (