April 11, 2008 Volume 22, Number 02
Over the Rhine equally at home in church or bar
By D.S. Martin | ChristianWeek Music Critic
Over The Rhine, the husband and wife team of Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, have been doing things their own way since the release of their first album Till We Have Faces in 1991. Just try to slide their latest release, The Trumpet Child, into a category and you'll find yourself stalling.
Each song has its own genre. "Entertaining Thoughts" is a pop number, not unlike Linda Ronstadt circa 1974; "Who'm I Kiddin' But Me" could have come from a Rickie Lee Jones album half a decade later; "If A Song Could Be President" is so authentic in it's twang that (other than it's quirky political commentary) you'd swear you're listening to post-war country radio. There's so much variously packaged, unpackaged and repackaged jazz scampering throughout the CD that you might want to label it as such.
I remember raving to a good friend about how good Over The Rhine's 2005 CD Drunkard's Prayer is. When I played it he laughed, "Don, you're going mellow." And yes, that album is so soft it's in danger of fading into perfect melodious silence (ideal for a romantic dinner).
In contrast, The Trumpet Child, is much more foreground. "Trouble," for example, is a latino dance number that pulses with dangerous sexuality and the flavour of a derelict depression-era dancehall.
The musicians seem to be equally at home in a bar or a church, and are unafraid-even eager-to perch on the edge of every contradiction they can get their hands on.
The first cut, "I Don't Wanna Waste Your Time," reminds me of Christ's comment about not casting pearls before swine, although here it's as much about art and relationship as it is about the gospel. "I don't wanna waste good wine if you won't stick around/I love to laugh but I'm more than just your alcoholic clown/I won't pray this prayer with you unless we both kneel down."
Their taste for contradiction is most obvious in their Tom Waits tribute, "Don't Wait For Tom." It's not really possible to do justice to Waits without expressing his seedy side. "He's got the hands of a blind piano player/He's got a feel for the dark like a soothsayer," Detweiler recites in the only song where Bergquist's voice doesn't dominate. They have Tom read "a dirty joke out of an old Baptist hymnal" and "knock off John the Baptist for a word from the Lord." These examples might seem extreme, but in the context of the album they work.
What makes Over The Rhine so strong is that between Detweiler and Bergquist they cover all the bases extremely well. She has an amazing melodic sense and a voice that makes you think of a 21st-century Billie Holiday. His strengths are as a lyricist and instrumentalist.
Consider these powerful words that capture the beauty and mystery of prophesy:
"The trumpet child will blow his horn
The production on The Trumpet Child is sparse, maximizing the impact of every element. Jim Hoke's sensational clarinet playing on "Desperate For Love" is a case in point. With only Bergquist's voice, Linford's piano and a single cello in the mix he's able to truly shine.
Although the pair has had albums with International Record Syndicate and, more recently, with Virgin's Backporch label, this time Over The Rhine has chosen to release independently. In this internet age that doesn't seem a bad way to go. They still managed to rank within Paste Magazine's Best 50 CDs of 2007 (as did Derek Webb and Iron & Wine).
If you are growing weary of music that is safe, clichéd and stuck in the same old groove, consider Over The Rhine-they could never be accused of merely going through the motions. Visit
D.S. Martin is a Canadian poet and writer. His poetry chapbook So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press) is available from www.dsmartin.ca. His full length book, Poiema, will be published in 2008.
OVER THE RHINE-THE TRUMPET CHILD
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