I got super emotional when the first tunes of “The Queen of Hearts” started. The Decemberists have been a band that led me through many ups and downs and also managed to really drew me into their prosaic world full of heroes and heroines, tragedy and murder. They are lovely despite the murder.
Their new album is a collaboration with singer Olivia Chaney and goes under the moniker Offa Rex. They covered British folk tales and given the Decemberists’ track record with folk material, this is absolutely no surprise.
(And despite NPR writer Jason Heller pretending as if this is the first time that The Decemberists have “dipped their toes” into folk, they did so approximately a thousand times before and they did well.)
I have to admit, not every song hits as hard as “The Queen of Hearts”. I am generally a fan of folk music with a few prog elements, a bit more story telling in the melodies. I am aware that the typical folk aficionado will not find any faults with songs like “The Gardener” and “Flash Company” but for me, they were a little tame (they are really beautiful, though, so this might be just my current mood speaking).
However, this is mainly because The Decemberists have an incredible talent of creating really catchy and engaging melodies (including dramatic arcs), so I am just used a little bit more drama to my folk music. Something to tag me along, grab my hand. I am not really the sit in the grass and let it softly roll over me type of folk listener.
Also, Chaney’s voice tends to sound a little too close to singers like Joni Mitchell or basically every country singer ever when she’s not given much to do with the melody. But when she really goes out, her timbre is quite something and she suddenly becomes her own.
All in all, this is a mighty fine album and it’s something to get people into folk music (or get people who already love it something more modern than the usual “Songs of the Irish”-compilations you get for 3 quid at the rest stop).