Sometimes voices can cut through everything to envelope you. Olivia Chaney does just that. The multi instrumentalist English songstress has the ability to transport me far away depending on the track itself. She has a timeless quality to her and “The Longest River” is just that – timeless.
Opening with the gentle traditional Scottish folk song “False Bride” she slowly finger picks her guitar under her serene serenade whilst other strings and accordions gently arrange themselves around the main show. This style of arrangement is abundant throughout the album where minimalist arrangements are key to enhancing and supporting what’s already there. Chaney can be placed firmly in the folk category but she doesn’t stay there. “Imperfections” is a piano based track that reminds me of Joni Mitchell. It has an unusual time signature because Olivia isn’t playing strictly in time – it’s more about the ebb and flow of the track – and the second half is magical where it was comes together and other instruments begin to join in. Equally as enriching, but in a more subtle rising way is her version of “Waxwing” which is underpinned by a harmonium. It gives the track, and the album itself, a beautiful warmth and depth to it as the harmonium breathes deeper and fuller. A beautiful piece.
“Loose Change” must be the first time I’ve heard the words launderette and rollmops in the same song together. Chaney’s lyrics are often reflective and feel like snatches of key moments and memories that paint you a picture rather than lead you to the water. The track itself is a soft and gentle guitar and vocal one and allows Olivia’s voice to flex and soar when it counts to perfection. “Swimming in the Longest River” is fantastically lyrics too as she remarks “they say the longest river is denial…” The track itself is piano based and has a switch in tone and pace between verse and chorus with the gentle shimmers of guitars that sound like bowed glass accenting everything that goes on. It’s that attention to giving each song an audio hug that elevates the album.
“The Kings Horses” and “Too Social” are fascinating side by side from a lyrical perspective. The former talks about how brining everyone in to mend her broken heart won’t help, whilst the latter talks about doing the household chores preparing for the right one to arrive. There’s a current that runs through the album and I think it’s here where it hits hardest – “Too Social” being one of my favourites on the album because it feels like the song audibly unravels as the emotions get deeper and harder only for Olivia to need to get composed and finish the track off.
“Ja Jardinera” is a beautiful switch in tone and style with a Spanish folk number. The guitar work is superb if understated and Olivia’s Spanish sounds excellent. Staying in the cover/traditional space “There’s Not A Swain” which is taken from a play. This begins as a traditional folk track but with a bite to it and then transforms into highly stylish strum and slap and violin piece. For an album that is focused on warmth and tenderness, this track is the only aggressively toned track here and it’s a welcome tweak.
“Holiday” is utterly flawless. I can see it doing well at Christmas with its Sarah McLachlan-esque structure and delivery. If there’s a song that will make you cry on the album – this is it. Beautifully executed and it rips your heart out. “Blessed Instant” is a song that musically grows into something of an epiphany. From the tiniest seed grows a collage of strings and drums – the only track to use percussion at all on the album. It feels like the big finale and gets me extremely excited for what lies beyond Chaney’s début should she want to create a wider musical spectrum in the future. The closing “Cassiopeia” has a bombastic explosive bounce to it as little motifs and expressive pianos build and build into a short freeflow – much like a star about to explode. It’s a beautiful ending and an emotive one.
Olivia Chaney simply floored me. From the honest and open way the album is delivered, to the careful crafting of supporting instrumentation that sit around the guitar, piano and voice – it’s a stunning début. England has a star of folk!