July 16, 2018
Folk artists stepping into singer-songwriter territory are often treated with suspicion, as if their egos must be propelling them beyond the small stories of smaller people. But often, these musicians adore traditional music at the same time as they enjoy playing and writing in other genres. Olivia Chaney collaborated on two folk song projects last year: Nonesuch’s impressive Folk Songs compilation, featuring Natalie Merchant and Sam Amidon, and the stunning Offa Rex project with the Decemberists (Chaney does a mean Willie O’Winsbury). Chaney also sang on stage at Shirley Collins’ birthday celebrations – at the artist’s request, if the traditionalists want to take issue. “Beautiful, moving, intelligent singing,” was Collins’ spot-on assessment.
Chaney’s second solo album of originals comes produced by Thomas Bartlett, whose CV includes recent work with St Vincent, Ed Sheeran and Florence Welch, as well as a tribute to Pete Seeger, and an Irish folk band project, the Gloaming. As soon as Shelter begins, you fall into its warmly drawn, welcoming world. Its terrain feels like folk territory, too. Chaney’s voice is effortless, clear and bright, a beacon burning on an ancient, rolling hill, as her modern narratives arrive, subtly couching older details. Bells bring strangers, as a mother is late to collect her daughter from school. Demons persist, while protagonists wait to “befriend and face” them. New York’s Hudson flows while the singer thinks of older rivers (“cockles and mussels, alive, alive-oh”), and the arrangements throughout, all piano and quiet guitar, are lovingly minimal. This is not to provide a blasting showcase for Chaney, as there is little ego on this record, and her talents at delivery and depth ripple through softly but persuasively. The ghosts of Sandy Denny’s early 1970s solo albums are never very far away, but what gleaming ghosts those are to carry with you.
Toby Hay’s lush, instrumental second album, The Longest Day, is another impressive flag waved by this talented guitarist, whose last album was nominated for the Welsh music prize. The Alistair McCulloch Trio’s Off the Hook is a masterclass in traditional jigs and reels, its fiddle, bouzouki and whistle turned up to 11. Also, don’t miss Sharron Kraus’s Joy’s Reflection Is Sorrow, another fascinating release by this underrated artist, fluttering uncannily but brilliantly on the softer edges of psych-folk.
from The Guardian
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