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Olivia Chaney’s 'The Longest River' Album Review


Talented English folk artist and multi-instrumentalist Olivia Chaney’s debut album The Longest River (Nonesuch Records, 2015) is nothing less than simply beautiful music. Classically trained and well-versed in piano, guitar and harmonium, Chaney has produced a collection of enchanting songs and interpretations that have brought me to near tears on several occasions.


What is obvious throughout The Longest River is Chaney’s attention to detail. A stripped-back approach allows for Chaney’s characterful piano accompaniment and gorgeous, controlled vocal tone to be enjoyed clearly. Chaney’s ability to create rise and fall with minimal production and instrumentation supporting her is a highlight for me personally – the emotion feels raw, real and ‘in-the-moment’.


In both Chaney’s interpretations of classic folk songs such as False Bride and her touching originals like Imperfections, she achieves a perfect balance between tradition and personal-touch. Her understanding, appreciation & replication of the folk tradition we have all come to know and love can be heard impeccably. Yet, Chaney’s phrasing, harmony and melodies are improvisatory, jazzy and echo an important legacy of modern singer/songwriters from Bob Dylan, through Joni and Rickie Lee Jones who find solace in both folk and jazz idioms; a sound presumably stemming from her time spent studying jazz at the Royal Academy of Music and a taste for contemporary music.


Lyrically, The Longest River is outstanding. Chaney is a wordsmith, her lyrics heart-stoppingly fresh and varied. The King’s Horses feels like folklore that was written hundreds of years ago. In contrast, the lyrics for Too Social (https://open.spotify.com/track/1V4STfXG3ON041o9lyeKoL?si=5XXGpFOLS3GwZRo4U8vTIg) are more introspective and relatable, more of ‘today’ – “this house is too social/ kitchen constant coffee confessional/ they’re in luck the sun’s pouring in/ I seize the moment retreat within”. There’s no skimping in this department!


The Longest River is a gorgeous, authentic, lyrically and musically outstanding album with the highlight being Chaney’s unique vocal and instrumental performance of her songs and whilst it is sure to keep the traditionalists happy, The Longest River at its core is folk music accessible to a modern generation.


By Rosie Frater-Taylor

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