Ann O'Brien
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Ann O'Brien


Band Folk Alternative


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The best kept secret in music



Ann O’Brien
" Illawarra "
Genre: folk
reviewed by Elizabeth Nitz

This is an album for the casual listener of folk music who really prefers world music (you know who you are). Sick of the lilting rise and fall of the usual folk melody accompanied by perfect harmony, rhyming couplets and four chords on the acoustic? You owe it to yourself to explore Ann O’Brien’s website and grab her latest release, Illawarra, at

Ann’s unique vision gives her freedom most folkers only dream about. Unconstrained, she experiments with her voice, lyrics, and a variety of instruments from tribal drums & didgeridoo to upright bass and a surprisingly elegant harp.

She writes as if engaged in a refreshingly blunt conversation. In “If She’s Tired,” she points out, “You ask her if she’s tired and I see you leaning in – more like a slump than love or lust. The air between you looks so dead.”

Other songs are pure ethereal poetry, such as ”Swim” where she sings, “Please relax. I am the water, vast, surrounding, sharp and sudden, flowing soft. If you would get off that raft, you could swim.”

But her lyrics are merely a vehicle for her vocal and musical cavorting, so I won’t dwell. Illawarra starts like an uplifting pop album, with acoustic guitar and percussion but her voice gives her away quickly. “I Am You Are” layers a simple acoustic foundation with her sliding vocals as she half sings, half speaks the words. A rich cello accompanies, traditionally at first, then matching the wail of her singing. She giggles through the song as she might have at a first live rehearsal of the piece.

“The Sun Is A Woman” begins slowly with an acoustic melody floating above the growl of a didgeridoo, then picks up speed with percussion and her words spill over themselves as if she is describing an exciting idea. The notes she chooses to play and sing sometimes mesh and are in startling contrast at other times, creating an unconventional, capturing journey that begins anew each track.

If you prefer the confines of the ordinary, keep clear. This woman could mess with you.

Hit Picks: "I Am You Are" and "The Sun is a Woman"
- Elizabeth Nitz


Illawarra- 2002.


Feeling a bit camera shy


Ann O’Brien is a spiritual warrior disguised as a singer/ songwriter. Even while she sings about love, politics, or traveling, her lyrics reflect a deep awareness of herself and of life. A radiant presence, her love and passion for her life and work are evident the second she gets on stage. Poetically and stylistically she draws from such influences as Ani DiFranco, Joni Mitchell, and Alanis Morissette... although fans and industry folk alike often say she has one of the most unique voices they’ve heard. That voice can range from deep and sensual, to sweet and high, to a playful blend of singing, laughter or speech-- acting out her message or emotion in a way that traditional singing falls short. Spunky, sensitive, experimental, always searching and finding... all characterize Ann O’Brien’s music.
Long before Ann was writing songs with her guitar, she was paving the way with her explorations in music, performance and writing. She has studied piano, flute, Celtic harp, various western vocal styles, African call-and-response singing, and djembe drumming. What began as a childhood passion for poetry and stories led her to the MFA writing program at Naropa University, in Boulder, Colorado. There she performed poetry extensively. Always wanting her work to be alive, expressed through her body and received by an audience, Ann dove more into music as the years passed. Dance, improvisational theater, and movement have also been a part of the journey-- especially Aikido and African dance. Combining all this creativity with a lifelong pursuit of spiritual freedom and understanding, Ann has found her calling as a singer/ songwriter, with a style that is truly her own.
Since the release of her debut CD, Illawarra, Ann has been touring the country, building her fan base. The album features her original songwriting, vocals and guitar, supported by an eclectic array of instruments, including upright bass, conga drums, didgeridoo, cello and harp. The name comes from the Australian Illawarra flame tree, whose flowers are a traditional healing tool for helping people to follow their true passions. No name could be more appropriate for what Ann is doing in her music and performance, both for herself and for others.
In a world where so much popular music is just entertainment for its own sake, Ann O’Brien offers insight, artistry and honesty-- that moves you, that continues to grow, that has staying power.