Record Review: Olivia Chaney’s “Shelter”

To American ears, the quaint British folk songs of centuries past may seem like a dutiful exercise in revivalism. Granted, English bands like Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Pentangle and the Incredible String Band did their best to bring those archival trappings into a modern pop context, but their followers were an isolated following at best. And there was enough of a buzz to propel any one of those ensembles into the upper reaches of the charts.For those that delve into this essence of true folk as proscribed by those artists, Olivia Chaney brings it all back home.

Chaney posses a pristine vocal, delicate to the point that it demands one lean in and listen. Shelter, her latest album, and second for Nonesuch, is tender in tone with arrangements that rarely rise above a whisper, not surprising considering the fact that her accompaniment consists of little more than scant traces of piano, guitar, violin and occasional mellotron. The lyrics are precious and precise as well (“I spied a dragonfly/The size of my fist/Like the one I’d drawn/Carefully as a child”), but it’s posturing, not pretence, that proves so enticing.[ . . .}

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