The debut album by Florence-born English singer Olivia Chaney has finally been released after a long period of waiting. Chaney has been active for several years as an interpreter of English traditional songs, as a songwriter, and as a talented musician playing guitar, piano and harmonium. But aside from a five track EP in 2010 this is her first official solo recording so in her case it really can be said to be long-awaited.
What we have now is a lovely album of thoughtful and varied compositions which shows off Chaney’s wonderful voice and her many musical skills. It all hangs together despite the very different origins of the songs. The Longest River begins with a superb version of the traditional ‘False Bride’, there’s a cover of ‘Waxwing’ by Scottish singer Alasdair Roberts, and an arrangement of Purcell’s ‘There’s Not a Swain’. There is also a version of Chilean singer/composer Violeta Parra’s ‘La Jardinera’ and a song by Norwegian jazz musician Sidsel Endresen.
The backbone of the album, however, is provided by Chaney’s own songs and there are seven compositions here – three of them new recordings of songs from the earlier EP. She is developing, albeit at her own pace, into a very accomplished songwriter and the pick of these songs is the brilliant ‘The King’s Horses’. She manages here and elsewhere to combine a gift for writing lyrical images with the ability to create nuanced observations of everyday life. She can write catchy choruses too as emphatically evidenced on ‘Holiday’.
There is a slightly sparse and somewhat subdued mood on the album as Chaney relies mainly on her own accompaniments which alternate between guitar and keyboards. Her voice is aided here and there by the addition of some strings. Her background as a classically trained musician – she also studied at London’s Royal Academy of Music – is not necessarily an advantage and can tend towards stilted singing and a lack of passion. Thankfully, this is never the case here.
This is a highly recommended debut album and it will be interesting to see what the future holds for Olivia Chaney. It would be great to hear more of her interpretations of English folk songs alongside her own originals. Whatever she does – and she defies categorisation anyway – let’s hope we aren’t kept waiting quite so long for the next album.
The Longest River is released by Nonesuch Records. There is an album launch on 19th May at Hall One, Kings Place, London.