Olivia Chaney: Shelter

Listening Post 199.

There’s magic in Olivia Chaney’s second solo album, the how of it defying explanation but the where instructive: An 18th-century cottage on the North Yorkshire moors, no electricity, plumbing or running water; a refuge from urban noise and distraction; solitude, where she confronts the uncreative demons, wrestling with them until her inner chorus of angels emerges. Notwithstanding the sharp sense of place in her writing retreat and her songs, Chaney’s Shelter blurs time. Though her work bears folk, jazz and classical signs, she forges her own path with a voice and vision that mute the notion of genre. Her power relies not on push but on magnetism; with the slightest tonal rise or fall she adds emotional depth to scenes—a country church; walking amid Roman ruins; a girl waiting for mother to pick her up at school; father singing old ballads. Though elsewhere she enriches the soundscape with harmonium or dobro, the title track is a minimalist ode—voice and guitar—to the creative process and the austere field of catharsis and battle that yielded eight of the album’s 10 tracks.

(video 1). A Tree Grows in Brooklyn pays homage to the novel set in early 20th-century New York, and doubles as a metaphor for music blossoming in a crumbling house (video 2). Though Roman Holiday (video 3) borrows a film title it is largely autobiographical—Chaney was born in Italy to English parents—and a glad rejoinder to the sadder Holiday from her first album. A Manhattan skyscraper window becomes a looking glass in which a Dragonfly triggers a childhood flashback (video 4). House on the Hill returns to the cradle of Shelter’s inspiration: “Where I’ve come to see/What is real/All I find is illusion” (video 5). It’s oddly comforting to know that not even the artist fully comprehends her magic. What matters on this transcendent album is that she has it. (Nonesuch Records)

Shelter credits
Olivia Chaney: vocals, guitar, dobro, piano, organ, harmonium
Jordan Hunt: synthesizer, violin, backing vocals
Thomas Bartlett: producer, bass, mellotron, percussion, piano, synthesizer

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