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Olivia Chaney & The Decemberists Celebrate Traditional British Folk Music As Offa Rex

Offa Rex - The Old Churchyard
The influence of the British folk revival on Colin Meloy and The Decemberists comes full circle in the band’s latest project: recording and performing with English singer and multi-instrumentalist Olivia Chaney as Offa Rex. Titled The Queen of Hearts, the group’s first album is a pitch-perfect tribute to ’70s British folk rock filled with traditional English, Scottish, and Irish songs interpreted with electric guitar and a touch of psychedelia.

Chaney’s voice is an important part of that interpretation. Both powerful and warbling, it recalls Sandy Denny in its clarity and expansiveness, but remains unique nonetheless. “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” needs only the drone of a harmonium backing her. The result is a starkly beautiful take on the classic song. “Bonny May,” on the other hand, is bright with a bouncy, ear-catching melody. The song runs through its six-and-a-half minutes at a brisk pace, telling the story of a lover who goes off to (and eventually returns from) war.

Olivia Chaney’s voice is not the only one the album, however; Colin Meloy takes lead vocals on “Blackleg Miner,” a rollicking track about strikebreakers and the violence committed against them. He also performs a duet with Chaney on The Queen of Hearts‘ closing track, “To Make You Stay.”

The Queen of Hearts works amazingly as an homage to Britain’s psychedelic folk rock of the 1960s and 1970s, but it is not simply a recreation of that music. As often as Chaney, Meloy, and co. stay true to the sound on certain songs on the album, others deviate into new and interesting territory. Hopefully, Olivia Chaney and The Decemberists will join forces again to record and perform as Offa Rex.

Offa Rex’s The Queen of Hearts is out now through Nonesuch Records and is available on Amazon, iTunes, and Nonesuch’s online store.

Terence Praet
Terence Praet contributes to The Manual’s New Music Monday column. He studied Philosophy and History at Skidmore College…
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