Jul 142017
 

If you are a regular reader of this site, you may remember this post from a couple months back, about the (to my ears) hotly anticipated shared project between English folkstrel Olivia Chaney and Portland quirkmeisters the Decemberists. Well, the lovely people at Nonesuch have now released Offa Rex’s The Queen of Hearts, and mighty fine it is too.

Chaney may not be especially well known to many, unless you were lucky enough to catch the last round of occasional Joe Boyd-curated Nick Drake tribute shows, featuring a host of singers and musicians from varied sources. Chaney was undoubtedly one of the stars of the one I saw, alongside company like Glen Hansard and Sam “Iron and Wine” Beam. This led me to her 2015 release, The Longest River, which I can commend. The Decemberists are much better known and have long been drawn to the canon of trad.arr., especially singer Colin Meloy. Indeed, one might surmise the seeds for Offa Rex were sown by a tour-only EP Meloy produced in 2006, Colin Meloy Sings Shirley Collins. Indeed, Meloy says he invited Chaney to the table by suggesting in a tweet that his band be her Albion Country Band. Queen of Hearts shows them not making a half-bad shot of it, with side-orders aplenty of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, not to mention a little of fellow U.S. travelers 10,000 Maniacs on the keyboard swirl of “Bonnie May.”
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May 102017
 
offa rex

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. Continue reading »

Dec 062016
 
best cover songs

Over the past few months, we’ve been hard at work making our list of The Best Cover Songs of 2016. Narrowing it down to 50 caused some excruciating choices, that’s how many great covers there were this year.

We’ll be posting the full list next week (and “Best Cover Albums” this Thursday), but as a little appetizer, here are our Honorable Mentions, covers we loved and still wanted to spotlight as among the best 2016 had to offer. Continue reading »

Apr 152016
 
TheDecemberists_2015_1-53810004_v1

If you don’t live in Australia, the name Hoodoo Gurus might not mean much to you, but in the ’80s and early ’90s they were one of the nation’s preeminent college rock bands (think R.E.M. or The Feelies). Though they never found equally huge acclaim stateside, since reuniting they’ve been crowned veritable national treasures back home, being inducted into the Australian music hall of fame a few years ago, and having a song adopted as the official theme song of the National Rugby League (speaking of things that never made it big in the states…). And now, on their current tour of Australia, The Decemberists have begun performing a cover of one of the band’s biggest hits, “Death Defying.” Continue reading »

Feb 202015
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Tusk‘s reputation as an infamous failure is pretty much cemented at this point. But it didn’t actually fail at all.
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Aug 292014
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Are the Decemberists a band that “craft theatrical, hyper-literate pop songs that draw heavily from late-’60s British folk acts like Fairport Convention and Pentangle and the early-’80s college rock grandeur of the Waterboys and R.E.M.,” as described by Allmusic, or are their songs an “unbearable exercise in indie high-quirkiness, with each new release deepening the impression that Meloy thinks he’s Edmund Spenser or, at least, the only rock singer smart enough to keep a copy of The Faerie Queene on his bedside plinth,” as writer Jody Rosen wrote in Slate?

Although I lean toward the former, I can understand believing the latter.

There can be no doubt that the Decemberists’ focus on tales of pirates, highwaymen, shape-shifters, and interpretations of myths and legends from around the world, plus primary lyricist Colin Meloy’s empty-the-thesaurus writing style, not to mention their practice of performing live historical reenactments in their shows, set them up for being mocked by some, and beloved by others. And that is what makes life interesting.
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