Exposé Online banner

Offa Rex — The Queen of Hearts
(Nonesuch 558638-2, 2017, CD)

by Jon Davis, Published 2017-12-05

The Queen of Hearts Cover art

It was sometime back in the mid 70s that I discovered English folk rock, though the specifics are lost to the mists of time. It was likely a Steeleye Span album that did it, and I’m pretty sure Rocket Cottage was my first. Before long I encountered the marvel that is Fairport Convention’s Liege and Lief, and in the years since I’ve investigated not only the rest of the catalogs of those two bands, but the similar and related bands that also did great work blending the rich folk traditions of the British Isles with rock instruments and energy: Horslips, Pentangle, Fotheringay, Mellow Candle, Trees, Five Hand Reel, Lindisfarne, Mr Fox, and many more. Now comes Offa Rex, which features English singer Olivia Chaney and what is basically the American band The Decemberists. The connection with the roots I’ve mentioned is clear — they take on several traditional tunes that Steeleye Span (or Maddy Prior outside Steeleye) played, like “Sheepcrook and Black Dog,” “Blackleg Miner,” and “Flash Company.” And they acknowledge more modern sources by covering Ewan MacColl’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” reminding us that it was a folk-oriented song before Roberta Flack made it famous. Over the course of the album (and called out by name in the liner notes) are the great ladies of English folk singing: Maddy Prior, June Tabor, Anne Briggs, Lal Waterson, and Sandy Denny. Also name-checked are Ashley Hutchings, Martin Carthy, and Tim Hart. So these people obviously know exactly what they’re doing, and where it fits in history. Given the indie-cred (such as it is) that Colin Meloy and The Decemberists command, perhaps this shining of light on great music of the past will open a few eyes in younger generations. Be that as it may, this stellar band has come up with arrangements that can stand proudly with the work of their inspirations. It’s a kind of All around My Hat for the millennial generation, and is overflowing with musical ideas that both pay homage and expand on the accomplishments of their forebears. The title track leads off the set, starting with Chaney playing electric harpsichord, soon joined by bass, drums, and guitar with wah-wah. And then her lovely voice comes in, and if your heart isn’t melted yet, I question your humanity. (Just kidding — I think — but it is seriously beautiful.) Meloy takes lead vocals on some of the tracks, and the rest of the band is stellar. Chris Funk (guitar), Nate Query (bass), John Moen (drums), and Jenny Conlee (keyboards) are all flexible and provide other instruments beyond their primaries, and guests contribute bass clarinet, cello, viola, and percussion. I’m just stunned and pleased that such wonderful can be released in 2017. Maybe there’s hope for the human race after all.


Filed under: New releases, 2017 releases

Related artist(s): The Decemberists, Sandy Denny, Fairport Convention, June Tabor, Steeleye Span, Offa Rex

More info
http://smarturl.it/TheQueenOfHearts.All

Latest news

2018-02-18
Didier Lockwood RIP – Word reaches us today of the death of one of France's great jazz musicians, violinist Didier Lockwood. His playing bridged many worlds, from traditional jazz to fusion to progressive rock, and his talent can be heard on recordings by Magma, Clearlight, Pierre Moerlen's Gong, and many more. Lockwood was 62. » Read more

2018-02-15
10 Years of Fruits de Mer - The Incomplete Angler – Those of you who are faithful followers of Exposé will know that we have been promoting Fruits de Mer and its side labels and releases from nearly its first year. Now music journalist and author Dave Thompson has written a book chronicling the past ten years as a celebration of this milestone. » Read more

2018-02-14
Tom Rapp RIP – Singer / songwriter Tom Rapp, best known with the band Pearls Before Swine, passed away on February 12, at the age of 70, after a battle with cancer. » Read more

2018-01-30
Bill Bruford Ventures into Uncharted Territory – Drum master Bill Bruford, veteran of some of the most creative bands in history (King Crimson, Yes, Genese, etc.), is sharing some of what he's learned about being a drummer and a musician in his new book, Uncharted: Creativity and the Expert Drummer, out on University of Michigan Press. » Read more

2018-01-18
Christian Burchard RIP – Multi-instrumentalist Christian Burchard, who founded the seminal band Embryo in 1969, has died at the age of 71. His January 17 passing was announced on the band's Facebook page. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Billy Currie - Stand up and Walk – The second solo album by violinist and composer Billy Currie (ex Ultravox, Visage) traces a narrow path down a lush musical side road. Having completed his tenure with those bands, moving into a...  (2002) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues