The Queen of Hearts is the debut album from Offa Rex, an adventurous project featuring English singer/multi-instrumentalist Olivia Chaney and The Decemberists. Produced and recorded by Tucker Martine (Modest Mouse, My Morning Jacket, Neko Case) and Colin Meloy at Martine’s studio in Portland, OR, the album draws largely on traditional English-Irish-Scottish repertoire to create a transatlantic musical conversation that flirts with psychedelia and folk rock while maintaining its own inimitable identity. NPR calls it "a match made in folk-rock heaven."
On July 14, Nonesuch Records will release The Queen of Hearts, the debut album from Offa Rex, an adventurous new project featuring English singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Olivia Chaney and The Decemberists. Produced and recorded by Tucker Martine (Modest Mouse, My Morning Jacket, Neko Case) and Colin Meloy at Martine's studio in Portland, OR, and mostly arranged by Chaney, the thirteen tracks on The Queen of Hearts draw largely on traditional English-Irish-Scottish repertoire to create a transatlantic musical conversation that flirts with psychedelia and folk rock while maintaining its own inimitable identity.
The origins of Offa Rex can be traced to a tweet. Meloy, a fan of Olivia Chaney's 2015 Nonesuch debut, The Longest River, struck up a dialog with her over Twitter, which eventually led to her supporting The Decemberists on a US tour. Chaney says: "Every so often [on the tour] Colin and I would have these fleeting but quite intense conversations about songwriting and singing traditional songs. One night he asked me, grinning, 'Have you ever thought of having a backing group? We'll be your Albion Dance Band.'"
Meloy adds: "There’s this weird relationship between British and American music, this interesting trade and theft that goes back and forth. My hope was that if we—the neophytes, the dilettantes, the pretenders—brought Olivia to Portland to work with Tucker, perhaps these traditional British songs would be infused with something different."
From the heady harpsichord swirl that engulfs album opener "The Queen of Hearts" to the warm, delicate drone of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," or the cold, grey riff that heralds "Sheepcrook and Black Dog," it's evident that Offa Rex is different indeed, upending its folk roots and imbuing these songs with exploratory verve.
Produced by Tucker Martine and Colin Meloy
Recorded and Mixed by Tucker Martine at Flora Recording & Playback, Portland, OR
Additional engineering by Michael Finn
Assistant Engineers: Keegan Curry, Justin Chase
Mastered by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering Studios, Portland, ME
Front Cover and Booklet Front & Back Cover Photography by Samantha Muljat
Back Cover Photograph by Shervin Lainez
Studio Photography by Jason Quigley
Art Direction & Design by Jeri Heiden and Nick Steinhardt, SMOG Design, Inc.
All songs are traditional, arranged by Olivia Chaney, except:
"Blackleg Miner," arranged by Colin Meloy
"Constant Billy (Oddington) / I’ll Go Enlist (Sherborne)," arranged by Jenny Conlee, Nate Query, John Moen, Chris Funk, and Colin Meloy
"Bonny May," arranged by June Tabor
"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," written by Ewan MacColl, arranged by Olivia Chaney
"Sheepcrook and Black Dog," written by Madelaine Prior/Frederick Kemp/Timothy Hart/Robert Johnson & Peter Knight, arranged by Olivia Chaney
"To Make You Stay," written by Lal Waterson, arranged by Olivia Chaney
Olivia Chaney, vocals (1, 3–6, 8–10), electric harpsichord (1, 9, 10), harmonium (2, 4, 6, 9, 11), backing vocals (2, 11), Dobro electric guitar (3), acoustic six-string guitar (5, 8, 11), piano (11)
Colin Meloy, acoustic twelve-string guitar (1, 9), vocals (2, 11), acoustic six-string guitar (2, 8, 9, 11), electric guitar (5–7, 10), nylon-string guitar (8)
Chris Funk, electric guitar (1, 7, 9, 10), mandolin (2), Autoharp (3), hammered dulcimer (3)
Nate Query, electric bass (1, 2, 5–7, 9–11), bass guitar (3), upright bass (8)
Jenny Conlee, Rhodes piano (1), accordion (7), Hammond organ (9, 10)
John Moen, drums (1–3, 5–7, 9–11), gong (10)
Anna Fritz, cello (1)
Ralph Carney, bass clarinet (2, 7), woodwind drone (6)
Mirabai Peart, viola (3, 5, 6), backing vocals (5)
Steve Drizos, congas (9)