Olivia Chaney: Shelter

Angels & Demons

Listening Post 199. There’s magic in Olivia Chaney’s second solo album, the how of it defying explanation but the where instructive: An 18th-century cottage on the North Yorkshire moors, no electricity, plumbing or running water; a refuge from urban noise and distraction; solitude, where she confronts the uncreative demons, wrestling with them until her inner chorus of angels emerges. Notwithstanding the sharp sense of place in her writing retreat and her songs, Chaney’s Shelter blurs time. Though her work bears folk, jazz and classical signs, she forges her own path with a voice and vision that mute the notion of genre. Her power relies not on push but on magnetism; with the slightest tonal rise or fall she adds emotional depth to scenes—a country church; walking amid Roman ruins; a girl waiting for mother to pick her up at school; father singing old ballads. Though elsewhere she enriches the soundscape with harmonium or dobro, the title track is a minimalist ode—voice and guitar—to the creative process and the austere field of catharsis and battle that yielded eight of the album’s 10 tracks (video 1). A Tree Grows in Brooklyn pays homage to the novel set in early 20th-century New York, and doubles as a metaphor for music blossoming in a crumbling house (video 2). Though Roman Holiday (video 3) borrows a film title it is largely autobiographical—Chaney was born in Italy to English parents—and a glad rejoinder to the sadder Holiday from her first album. A Manhattan skyscraper window becomes a looking glass in which a Dragonfly triggers a childhood flashback (video 4). House on the Hill returns to the cradle of Shelter’s inspiration: “Where I’ve come to see/What is real/All I find is illusion” (video 5). It’s oddly comforting to know that not even the artist fully comprehends her magic. What matters on this transcendent album is that she has it. (Nonesuch Records)

Shelter credits
Olivia Chaney: vocals, guitar, dobro, piano, organ, harmonium
Jordan Hunt: synthesizer, violin, backing vocals
Thomas Bartlett: producer, bass, mellotron, percussion, piano, synthesizer

 

Shelter
Lyrics & Music: Olivia Chaney

Everyone rallied round to help me dream/But when I came to that place I did not feel
The way I was supposed to/
Things, it seems, that others do

So here I am, free from distraction/Beauty, fear, at my disposal
But I dismiss each kernel as/
A start I cannot finish

Give me warmth, give me shelter/Give me food, bring me water
But till I come to befriend and face/The demons do persist

When did grand and insecure/
Gain back ground battled from my core
And now I find they dwell again/
Grown strong and unfaithful

Give me warmth, give me shelter/Give me food, bring me water
But till I come
/To befriend and face
The demons … do persist

 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Lyrics & Music: Olivia Chaney

Father’s a drinker/Rolls down the stairs
When I am with him/I could be anywhere

I will read every book of the world/Turning pages, Irish girl
In my tenement fairy-tale

He calls me prima donna/
Still rubs my nose
Says I’ve got a bad, bad case of growing up/Is dream time closed?

The language of angels/Mussels and seashells
Is when Pappa sings old ballads/Scatters like petals

When we walk/
There is Spring in my cheek
I fear Mamma thinks that he’s a cheat

Every place has its dreamers
/And everyone has a song
The ocean bed it changes/
The winds blow seeds to sow
The tide of the Hudson is flowing/A tree in Brooklyn it grows

“Alive, alive-oh/
Alive, alive-oh/
Crying “Cockles and mussels alive, alive-oh …”

 

Roman Holiday
Lyrics & Music: Olivia Chaney

Love is on this balcony/Naked, where I rest my feet
We roam Roman ruins/Swifts, swallows swoop and screech

This is our time/
Under umbrella pines
Darling can you cope/
With my high-hearted ideals and demands

Maybe joy will win/Maybe this will bring
Fruits we never ate before/A feast on future’s lore

That we’re building/
Through broken triumphal arches
Thank God, you exist

Go, hustle trade/
Think it makes the world go round
I won’t judge you any the less/Only want for you to have the best
That you can in this age/
Of freedom, capital,
Faith too classical

This is our time
/Under umbrella pines
Darling can you cope/
With my high-hearted ideals and demands

Gentle archaeologist/Boldly take risk
Dig, dig trust/
Brush away the dust

Wondering how it is you learnt/All I need is to be met
Why, why your patience is/
So strong and endless

 

Dragonfly
Lyrics & Music: Olivia Chaney

In New York Palace/From the 46th floor
I spied a dragonfly/The size of my fist
Like the one I’d drawn/Carefully as a child

Pinned high/
In pride of place
On the classroom wall/But the lost boys
Of angry youth/
Burnt down my school

Father caught flames of Hell/Filed in his archive
I never saw logic behind/Collecting reasons why

Mother’s wearing old silk dresses/Hiding her pretty eyes
Always late to pick me up/
From the moment she arrives
I look back to see that someone stole her time

The bell brings/
A stranger
Memories divide/Ever-searching
Snapshots of our lives

When are we truly safe from ourselves/And the ones we hold too close
Oh how have I not lost/
My innocence

Mother’s wearing old silk dresses/Hiding her pretty eyes
Always late to pick me up/
From the moment she arrives
I look back to see that someone stole her time

As actors/
On the wrong stage
With imperfect lines/
My dragonfly beats its wings
In vain, so high/
I hope I don’t lose my lines

Mother’s wearing old print dresses/Hides those pretty eyes
Always late to pick me up/
From the moment she arrives
I look back to see that someone stole her time

Oh Mother wears old silk dresses/And hides those pretty eyes
Always late to pick me up/
From the moment she arrives
I look back to see that someone stole her time

 

House on a Hill
Lyrics & Music: Olivia Chaney

In this house/
On a hill
Where I’ve come to see/What is real
All I find is illusion

Urgently she sees Spring grow
/Build to a stream
On it flows/Till Autumn falls, golden
Leaves her silent, scolded

Men nearby drain fields/
Hopeful for all they yield
Not wond’ring why the days end/With the sun in the West
At night I hang/
From the ledge
By moon, by Pleiades/
In all the shining mystery

In this house/
On a hill
Where I’ve come/To need less
And many more will

 

 


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