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.