At the first show of their recent three-night run in NYC, The Decemberists brought out singer Olivia Chaney for a mysterious song they didn’t really explain. Featuring Chaney leading on harpsichord and vocals, it was weird and proggy in a similar way to the Decemberists’ own album Hazards of Love. Now, a few weeks later, we know what the performance was teasing: an upcoming Decemberists/Chaney covers album under the band name Offa Rex.
“A few years ago, I had a chance to hear a record by a fantastic artist, one Olivia Chaney,” Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy wrote on the band’s website. “She made a record called The Longest River and I was so taken by it, particularly her arrangement of the old folk song ‘The False Bride.’ She seemed to me to be channeling the great female folk singers of the British folk revival: Sandy Denny, Anne Briggs, June Tabor, Norma & Lal Waterson, Shirley Collins and Maddy Prior. We invited her to open a bunch of Decemberists shows in 2015 and afterward I made a pitch to her: let us be the Albion Dance Band to your Shirley Collins. Let’s start a band. Let’s make a record of old folk songs that will be as much about rediscovering ancient songs as it is an homage to that incredible era of British music, the 60s and 70s folk revival.”
“Every so often [on the tour] Colin and I would have these fleeting but quite intense conversations about songwriting and singing traditional songs,” Chaney said in a press release. “One night he asked me, grinning, ‘Have you ever thought of having a backing group? We’ll be your Albion Dance Band.'”
Hear their debut single below, a cover of the traditional “The Queen of Hearts” that they learned from Martin Carthy. Meloys says, “It’s about heartbreak in the face of unrequited love; to my ears it’s as fresh today as it was when it was written three hundred years ago. That’s kind of the spirit of the record.” Then check out a live version from one of those Brooklyn shows, and Carthy’s version too.
‘The Queen of Hearts’ Tracklist:
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