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 Continue reading

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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