Olivia Chaney is a folk singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who singlehandedly thwarts any lazy assumptions that can be made about the state of folk in 2015.
Her debut album The Longest River blends classic old-world sounds from traditional sources with confident vocals that reminds you that the broad umbrella of folk branches far beyond pop beatniks Mumford and Sons.
The album has been a long-awaited project since Olivia first published an EP in 2010.
In 2014, she became a double nominee in the Radio 2 Folk Awards – the Horizon Award for best emerging artist, and Best Original Song for Swimming in the Longest River – after DJ Mark Radcliffe recognised her talent.
Her unique upbringing as a Florence-born, Oxford-raised, Manchester-schooled and London-based star helps to explain the unorthodox nature of her sounds.
At a gig in America, the New York Time described her as ‘gloriously wayward’.
It said: “Whether she’s singing old songs or her own, Ms. Chaney destabilizes them, turning them into rhapsodic, immediate dramas, giving listeners a reason to hang on every phrase and inflection.
“She melts down the meter of her songs, seeming to linger over phrases at will. There’s no foot-stomping drive to distract from the immediacy of words and melodies.”
The Longest River balances several of Olivia’s original compositions with a selection of covers that have been updated according to her own taste and interpretation.
Covers include Blessed Instant by Norwegian jazz singer-composer Sidsel Endresen; an adaptation of 17th-century Baroque composer Henry Purcell’s There’s Not a Swain; 20th-century Chilean folk composer Violetta Parra’s La Jardinera; and Waxwing from Scottish avant-folk singer-songwriter Alasdair Roberts.
Whilst her voice is full of tradition – it fills the sparse album with full-bodied tones, the modern references and unique takes on old covers provide the contemporary swagger.
The album has clear origins in folk, but Olivia’s classical training in piano and voice at Chetham’s before moving to London for jazz training at the Royal Academy, helps to weave a musical journey that complements its singers esoteric history.
Olivia echoes this sentiment when she describes the vulnerability of recording an album with few musicians .
“I wanted it to have a transparency and intimacy, even if in a voyeuristic way,” she said.
“I also wanted to pick up the atmosphere of the room I recorded in … almost tangibly feel the mood of the song and the performance.”
In the age of overlaid beats, dirty drops and fast-moving tracks, The Longest River contrasts itself against the norm with its starkness.
Olivia will return to Manchester when she performs at Band on the Wall, this Saturday (16th May).
In a satisfying chime of synchronicity, she will be performing at the very same venue she used to sneak out too after hours, as a former Chetham’s School of Music pupil.
Her performance in Manchester will introduce new faces and loyal fans to several of Olivia’s own compositions, including the two songs she received nominations for.
A particular highlight on the album is Imperfections, a bittersweet introspection of love, trapped feelings and the uniqueness of Manhattan at 3am.