Olivia Chaney, "The Longest River" (Nonesuch). On its surface, the debut album from the British folk singer Chaney, released in April, is a simple affair. Featuring her graceful hand-picked acoustic guitar and piano work and a small backing band of strings and bass, "The Longest River" highlights an artist with a voice in harmony with rich traditions and eager to add her own pure-toned phrased accents. Below the surface, though, lay grim complications.
At her Los Angeles debut at the Hotel Cafe last year, Chaney teased songs from "The Longest River." Joni Mitchell's earliest records were one obvious touchstone, as was the work of Sandy Denny-era Fairport Convention. Those are easy comparisons and threaten to diminish her record's distinctive beauty. One highlight was her cover of Scottish folk singer Alasdair Roberts, "Waxwing," an exquisite, poetic exploration of nature included on the new record.
Ryan Adams, "Live at Carnegie Hall" (Pax Am/Blue Note). With a subtle ease that belied his bull-in-a-china-shop entrance onto the songwriting scene in the 1990s, the enduring songwriter Adams has penned enough resonant gems to earn not only a live album but one at Carnegie Hall. A few years ago the skeptic in me would have dismissed such an Adams endeavor as the ultimate artistic humble-brag, but I've accepted his quirks. In the liner notes, he writes of taking the subway to and from the gigs like he's playing for a few friends, but that's OK. The songs, chosen from performances over two brisk autumn nights, don't lie.
Standing before the microphone alone, wearing jeans and a jean jacket and accompanied only by his sparse guitar work, Adams on the recording presents his mournful ode "Oh My Sweet Carolina," his apologetic "My Wrecking Ball," album closer "Come Pick Me Up," his New York City kowtow, "New York, New York." Each sounds crucial in its own way. Songs written a few years back feel like '70s country classics. In fact, so does the whole of the record, in a timeless kind of way.