On July 7, Nonesuch Records will release The Queen of Hearts, the debut album from Offa Rex, an adventurous new project featuring English singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Olivia Chaney and The Decemberists. Produced and recorded by Tucker Martine (Modest Mouse, My Morning Jacket, Neko Case) and Colin Meloy at Martine’s studio in Portland, OR, and mostly arranged by Olivia Chaney, the thirteen tracks on The Queen of Hearts draw largely on traditional English-Irish-Scottish repertoire to create a transatlantic musical conversation that flirts with psychedelia and folk rock while maintaining its own inimitable identity.
Listen to Olivia Chaney and The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy discuss the project with Bob Boilen for NPR’s All Songs +1 (also below). Colin Meloy and Olivia have an interesting discussion about Willie O Winsbury and Anne Briggs who we interviewed last year here. You can also watch a studio performance video for the title track “The Queen of Hearts” above.
The origins of Offa Rex can be traced to a tweet. Meloy, a fan of Chaney’s 2015 Nonesuch debut, The Longest River, struck up a dialog with her over Twitter, which eventually led to her supporting The Decemberists on a U.S. tour. Chaney says: “Every so often [on the tour] Colin and I would have these fleeting but quite intense conversations about songwriting and singing traditional songs. One night he asked me, grinning, ‘Have you ever thought of having a backing group? We’ll be your Albion Dance Band.’”
Meloy adds: “There’s this weird relationship between British and American music, this interesting trade and theft that goes back and forth. My hope was that if we—the neophytes, the dilettantes, the pretenders—brought Olivia to Portland to work with Tucker, perhaps these traditional British songs would be infused with something different.”
From the heady harpsichord swirl that engulfs album opener “The Queen of Hearts” to the warm, delicate drone of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” or the cold, grey riff that heralds “Sheepcrook and Black Dog,” it’s evident that Offa Rex is different indeed, upending its folk roots and imbuing these songs with exploratory verve.
Offa Rex will tour this summer, including performances at the Newport Folk Festival, Town Hall in New York, and at The Aladdin in Portland. They will also be performing at Travelers’ Rest, The Decemberists’ two-day curated festival in Missoula, MT on August 12 and 13. Additionally, Olivia Chaney will support The Decemberists during their August tour, during which she will join the band on stage to perform songs from The Queen of Hearts. Chaney will also do a few solo shows around these dates.
1. The Queen of Hearts
2. Blackleg Miner
3. The Gardener
4. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
5. Flash Company
6. Old Churchyard
7. Constant Billy (Oddington) / I’ll Go Enlist (Sherborne)
8. Willie o’ Winsbury
9. Bonny May
10. Sheepcrook and Black Dog
11. To Make You Stay