English multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter Olivia Chaney defies categorization. Her classical background, traditional English influences and modern day perspective could have combined to make a much more commercial sound than they do, but instead of going the babe-with-a-dulcimer route, Chaney seems comfortable with her distinctive sound.
As a lyricist, Chaney projects an earnestness that comes off as defiantly uncool. A reference to a nursery rhyme, or a crack about "the longest river in Egypt," aren't played for laughs but rather go to more unpredictable places; she explores with her metaphors, rather than cracking wise. Her original songs are introspective, internal monologues, with hints of a busy life going on around her. The album's several covers include two songs from the 17th century: a setting of Henry Purcell's "There's Not A Swain" and a gender-flipped version of the traditional English folksong, "The False Bride."
The contrasts between the old fashioned music and the subject of the interior life of the modern young woman might be jarring, but they also make the listener pay close attention. Instead of building up to choruses, ("Hey nonny nonny" English folk this ain't,) Chaney's original songs often wind their way down to repeated codas; it's a song structure borrowed from classical traditions, and works surprisingly well with the stream-of-conscious lyrics.
The Longest River sounds like it wasn't written to impress anyone, but impress it does. It's an intriguing debut. (Nonesuch)