Olivia Chaney, Mark Dvorak | Szold Hall, Old Town School of Folk Music | Folk & Country | Chicago Reader
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Olivia Chaney, Mark Dvorak 

When: Thu., Feb. 12, 8 p.m. 2015
Price: $15, $13 members
On his records Scottish singer Alasdair Roberts has featured some of British folk’s most exciting female singers—Jackie Oates and Emily Portman among them. And it’s on his 2013 album A Wonder Working Stone (Drag City) that I first heard the voice of Olivia Chaney, which leaped out of the rich din and prompted me to dig around for more. But with the exception of an eponymous self-released five-track EP from 2011, Chaney hasn’t put out an album of her own music. Thankfully, that situation is changing late next month when Nonesuch releases The Longest River, a debut that lives up to its promise. Chaney, who’s adept at guitar, piano, and harmonium, has a voice rooted in the intricacies of British folk, but she’s not a purist: on the album she interprets a song by Chilean nueva canción pioneer Violeta Parra (“La Jardinera”), one by Baroque composer Henry Purcell (“There’s Not a Swain”), and another by the daring Norwegian folk-jazz singer Sidsel Endresen (“Blessed Instant”). Most of the dozen tracks, however, are original. On “Imperfections,” she sings about a trip to New York in which indulgence can’t blunt a sense of personal turmoil, and on the title track she meditates about how she’s living in a world where people struggle with honesty and vulnerability. She might channel the spirit of singers like Anne Briggs or Eliza Carthy, or adapt the personal folk-pop paradigm of Joni Mitchell, but the crystalline beauty and sleek agility of her voice and the immaculate clarity of her phrasing transcend any one tradition. Chaney’s got so many tools and so much potential it’s almost frightening—in part because she might decide to whittle her interests down into something less sweeping. But for now I’m thrilled by the possibilities. For her Chicago debut she’s joined by violinist Jordan Hunt, who plays on much of the record. —Peter Margasak

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