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Critics' Choice
OFFA REX: BOW BEFORE THE QUEEN
7/6/17

About 45 seconds into "Sheepcrook and Black Dog," a track from The Queen of Hearts, the forthcoming Nonesuch set from Offa Rex (due 7/15), I said something I don't often say these days: 

HOLY FUCKING SHIT.

The Zeppelin-esque riff rock that kicks off the tune gives way to gorgeous, authentic English folk, and the effect is electrifying. The band is an inspired collaboration between Portland pop-rock provocateurs The Decemberists and English artist Olivia Chaney, whose grasp of classic Celtic song is as profound as anyone's—and whose voice is a gift from heaven. 

While the rest of Queen isn't quite as heavy, it is relentlessly riveting, and a showcase of the participants' musical versatility. Among the other highlights: the beguiling title track, the rousing, politically charged "Blackleg Miner," a gorgeous take on Ewan McColl's evergreen "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" and the stately memento mori "The Old Churchyard."

What's perhaps most staggering is that these songs are all either traditional or well-aged standards in the folk canon; Offa Rex's interpretations (driven by Chaney's canny arrangements) sparkle with immediacy. 

You can hear the whole thing here, thanks to an NPR advance stream. It's a a welcome drink from the deepest of wells.