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New recordings: Offa Rex, Haim, Jade Jackson [The Philadelphia Inquirer :: BC-MUS-ALBUMS:PH]

Offa Rex

"The Queen of Hearts"

(Nonesuch, (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)1/2)

Offa Rex is a collaboration between British folk musician Olivia Chaney and the bookish American indie-rock band the Decemberists. With Chaney taking almost all the lead vocals, the explicit template comes from British folk-rock bands, circa 1970, such as Steeleye Span, Sandy Denny-era Fairport Convention, and Shirley Collins with the Albion Band. Chaney sings these canonical songs beautifully, in a clear, forceful, often melancholy soprano.

"Willie o'Winsbury" and "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" are sparse and direct, but "Sheepcrook and Black Dog" and "The Old Churchyard," are heavy and dramatic, with echoes of the Decemberists' prog-rock opus "The Hazards of Love." Throw in an instrumental jig or two, and "The Queen of Hearts" is deliberately anachronistic - an echo of a style that itself was an echo of centuries'-old traditions. But it's a successful reenactment.

_Steve Klinge

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Haim

"Something to Tell You"

(Columbia (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK))

The sisters Haim of San Fernando, Calif., have, since their 2013 debut "Days Are Gone," created a rich, but mish-mashy, rubric of harmony-riddled pop that touched on sullen '70s AM melodicism, flinty '80s synth-wave and sleek '90s R&B. What's made that merry mash-up special is how Alana, Danielle and Este took to that stirring style with the gusto and complexity of a young femme Rush or Fleetwood Mac without the sex and drugs. As awkward and gawky as that description paints them, for Haim's sophomore effort, the relaxed riot grrrls smooth over most of their remaining jagged edges, totally replace Geddy Lee with Stevie Nicks as its guru (e.g. "You Never Know"), and play up to the bop of their synth-pop calling (literally and figuratively) for solid, slick soulful results.

With the alterna-world songwriting and producing aid of Dev Hynes, Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij, and Twin Shadow's George Lewis, Haim make sultry sugary, breakup pop with a swagger. While "Ready for You" and the handclappy "Kept Me Crying" boogie and bounce on their hot heels, tunes such as "Want You Back" and "Walking Away" stay closer to the ground with Danielle Haim kicking up a quiet storm's soulful fuss. Smashing stuff.

_A.D. Amorosi

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Jade Jackson

"Gilded"

(Anti-, (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK))

"Wish I could turn salt to sugar / In the tears that are flooding my face / Then maybe the reason behind you leavin' / Wouldn't have such a bitter taste," Jade Jackson sings on "Salt to Sugar," one of the many striking numbers on her debut album.

That kind of blunt emotional honesty and simple but vivid writing runs throughout "Gilded," which reveals a young artist from small-town California who seems wise beyond her years. She already knows that actions have indelible consequences, but if she sometimes expresses regrets, she also possesses a tough-minded independence and more than a touch of youthful attitude: "Boy, it's been fun, but my motorcycle only seats one," she declares in a kiss-off on "Motorcycle."

Jackson's husky voice and the album's country-inflected rock add to the allure. According to Jackson, producer Mike Ness, of Southern Cal punk veterans Social Distortion, instructed her to listen to nothing but Lucinda Williams' "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" before recording. Whatever lessons she absorbed from that masterwork, she has used them to create a Golden State-hued Americana voice of her own.

_Nick Cristiano

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