It was late August 1992. It was in a tent in a field. It was the first night of Greenbelt. Pip Wilson and Martin Wroe were doing their The Very Stinking Late Show. As ever the first night had the video of The Call’s Let It Begin blasting out it’s blessing on the weekend, chats with the seminar speakers and a live song or two.
I had read about Over the Rhine in the Greenbelt magazine Strait bitty I wasn’t ready for Karin Bergquist to open her mouth or the melody or the poetry of the lyrics. It was Paul And Virginia. It was “cool and quiet” as Karin would describe it on Live From Nowhere Vol 4, years later. It was utterly breathtakingly beautiful. It was the days of Mazzy Star and 10,000 Maniacs and these guys were best of all.
And I was in love. With Karin (Janice made an exception for that crush!), with their songs and words and hypnotic atmospheric sound. So many imagine that U2 have been my favourite band. No. Ohio’s Over the Rhine have been my favourite band for a long time. Their double album Ohio has long wrestled with The Beatles' White Album and Abbey Road as my favourite record of all time.
The day after The Very Late Stinking Show, the band played The Big Top and as soon as the gig finished, now mesmerised by Ric Hordinski guitar playing, I went off to find the albums. In another tent I was captured by the complete vision.
You didn’t find Till We Have Faces or Patience in a card board box. Standing out from all the other product, there was this table all decked out in cigar boxes and little bottles of Bailey’s Cream, set on top of a lovely little cloth carefully placed.
My expectations of every record that this band has released ever since has been heightened by that vision. I have never been let down. This band believe that every song they write and produce is a piece of art. Fellow Cincinnati artist Michael Wilson’s photographs have dressed every album in the most splendid cover art.
In 1996 the Hordinski years closed. Drummer Brian Kelley left soon after and the married couple that is Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist have been Over the Rhine, drawing in musicians to add what grace notes their imaginations hear.
The post Hordinki years have been more like the cool quiet end of Neil Young. If Ric had given then the guitar power, heat and loud of Young’s Hurricane and Powderfinger, Linford and Karin have settled into the more acoustic, rustic Neil Young of After the Goldrush and Helpless. Indeed they have covered the latter song.
The old Over the Rhine format's last record was an independent release called Good Dog, Bad Dog. The first line on the first song Latter Days, “what a beautiful piece of heartache,” have summed up the band ever since.
Karin’s voice is… well you have to hear it. It is utterly seductive in the most spiritual of ways, wooing your heart and soul. I think someone told me that Julie Miller, wife of Buddy, said that in heaven we all got to sing like Karin Bergquist. The women anyway!
Linford does a song or two himself but he brings this ability to make a piano talk the way Springsteen said he had learned to do with a guitar. There is an emotion in their tunes and melodies that I don’t often find among their peers.
On top of all this are the must sublime literate yrics It was Frederick Buechner who said that art was cutting a vein and letting it bleed onto the page and then at another time warned that what art we put into our bloodstream can poison or nourish. Over The Rhine are those who bleed on the page and if you use it for soul transfusion you can only find redemption and peace within.
Redemption is their overriding theme. It is not a redemption that is so heavenly minded that it is of no earthly use. They don’t use it to lambast you like preachers who insult your intelligence. These songs don’t ring like the naive clang of a huge bell ringing. These beautiful pieces of heartache are like tinkles of grace and hope in the valley of the shadow.
Over The Rhine have found a severe mercy in the midst of their personal, as well as humanity’s deepest darkness. They have delved deep to find hope in the tragedies our darkness creates. They have found a place of joy in the midst of the certain-to-come-our-way tears. They have used all their wrestling to weave poetry and music into a tapestry of utterly astonishing depth of soul.
Stocki’s Introductory 10:
Paul and Virginia
The Last Time I Saw Jesus
Let It Fall
Circle Of Quiet
I Want You To be My Love
Eyes Wide Open